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Morocco

Morocco

Analysis - Siemens criticised over Western Sahara project

MOROCCO: There is a steady shift in the global wind market away from a narrow focus on its core markets of North America and western Europe to a truly global industry spread across many countries and continents.

The project is located in the disputed Western Sahara region
The project is located in the disputed Western Sahara region

As a result, developers and manufacturers are likely to find themselves operating in countries that present unfamiliar political challenges. Siemens is facing just such a challenge with its 100MW Foum El Oued project, currently under construction in the disputed Western Sahara region of southern Morocco.

Siemens was awarded a contract by local developer Nareva Holding in early 2012 that included the installation and commissioning of 22 SWT-2.3-101 turbines at Foum El Oued, due to come online later this year. Nareva itself was awarded the rights to build the project by Morocco's state utility ONE, with some of the funding being  provided by Moroccan pension fund Caisse Interprofessionnelle Marocaine de Retraites.

The project was Siemens' first win in Africa. However, it is located in Western Sahara, an area annexed by Morocco in 1975 and the subject of a United Nations mission since the early 1990s, when it sponsored a ceasefire between the Moroccan government and the Saharawi people's liberation movement, the Polisario Front.

Disputed territory

Since 1991 the UN mission, Minurso, has been seeking a referendum for the Saharawi people — most of whom are displaced and living in refugee camps, with 200,000 in south-western Algeria alone — on whether they choose to become an independent nation or integrate with Morocco. Just last week it was reported that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the UN Security Council that there was "serious concern" that the war against al-Qaida-backed Islamists in northern Mali could spill over into other countries in the region and contribute to the radicalising of the Saharawi refugee camps.

The dangers of operating in areas of contention was illustrated late last year when a Vergnet engineer working on a 10MW project was kidnapped by an islamist group in Nigeria.

Following the delivery of Siemens' turbines and blades to the Foum El Oued site last month, local human rights group Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) accused the manufacturer of helping to delay the Minurso referendum by giving legitimacy to Morocco's occupation of the territory.

"It is saddening to observe that companies in this way fail to take their corporate social responsibility commitment seriously," said WSRW coordinator Sara Eyckmans.

"Siemens should know better. To assist the Moroccan royal family to enrich themselves by cooperating on projects in a territory that same royal family invaded is in breach of any minimum ethical standard that you would expect an international company to uphold. What incentive would the Moroccan king have to be serious in the [Minurso] peace talks, if he can benefit from such a project with Siemens?"

In response, Siemens told Windpower Monthly that it considered that the benefits of the project — such as bringing power to people with no or little access to electricity — outweighed the negatives.

"Siemens is aware that Foum El Oued is located in a region that is currently subject to a UN mission," said a Siemens spokesman, who also listed additional benefits of the project including employment opportunities, and pointed out that the project is legal under local and international law.

"With delivering of technology to this project, Siemens does not intend to make a political statement on the status of the region. Regardless of political disputes, we believe that a working infrastructure will help to improve the economic conditions and, as a consequence, the situation of the local population."

Unfortunately, too often those countries most in need of the economic improvement that electricity infrastructure can bring are also those countries fraught with complex political histories.

Ethical cost-benefit analyses such as the one made by Siemens when considering Foum El Oued are surely likely to become more and more common for manufacturers and developers as they seek to build wind farms throughout the developing world.

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