"Last week’s Marrakech climate summit shone a light on Morocco’s clean energy plans, which have drawn praise from around the world. At the heart of King Mohammed VI’s ambitions is a windfarm in the country’s south-west region, which, due to an expansion over the summer, has seen off an array of challengers for the title of Africa’s biggest.
Built in just two years and launched in 2015, the Tarfaya complex stretches more than 100 square km across the Saharan desert, its 131 wind turbines grinding out enough electricity to power a city the size of Marrakech every day.
But the renewable energy project is also controversial with some Saharawi – the people who live in the west of the Sahara desert – who complain that it will deepen what they say is the occupation of their land.
The Western Sahara dispute traces back to November 1975, when Morocco oversaw a 350,000-strong “green march” from Tarfaya across the region, as Spain was beginning a haphazard decolonisation. A mass flight of Saharawi refugees and decades of armed conflict followed, as the UN declared the region a “non self-governing territory”.
When UN chief Ban Ki-moon described the situation as an occupation earlier this year, dozens of UN staff were expelled from the country.
Today, Tarfaya is a sleepy concrete village, sparsely surrounded by military checkpoints, camel trains, inlets dotted with flamingos – and 12 waves of turbines that rise from the Saharan sand dunes like a desert circus.
Their performance is a showstopper. Tarfaya annually saves 900 tonnes of CO2 emissions - and around $200m of oil imports. It has brought new transmission lines which, officials say, guarantee power supplies to Saharawi communities, even if many still complain that they are excluded from the green tech industry."