In Morocco, all strategic decisions relating to the energy sector fall outside of any form of democratic control. The creation of the Moroccan Agency for Renewable Energy (Masen) in 2019, the appointment by the King of Mustapha Bakkoury as its director and his recent disgrace reveal the autocratic methods applied to the sector. In fact, at the time he was appointed director of Masen, Bakkoury was president of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, an adviser and friend of the King. In 2015, the decision was taken to extend the prerogatives of the solar agency to the entire renewable sector, with Bakkoury as its CEO, positioning Masen as the main player in renewable energy and de facto marginalising the ONE.19 Yet, in March 2021, the news suddenly broke that Bakkoury was forbidden to leave the country,20 as part of ‘the investigation [targeting him] for mismanagement and embezzlement in his capacity as the head of Masen, according to media sources close to the case’. No official explanation was provided at the time.21
Local communities and parliamentarians, as well as engineers and technicians from public companies in the fields of production, management, transport and the maintenance of energy facilities, have always been marginalized from all discussions regarding MASEN renewable energy projects. Their consultation would have helped avoid major technical errors and made it possible to better monitor the private ‘partners’, who, on their side, were surrounded by experts defending their interests. A specialist in the sector who requested to remain anonymous has stated: ‘Since renewable energies have become a strategic sector, the agency [Masen] has taken over all of the sustainable development prerogatives. It has become all-powerful. As in any big royal project, silence prevails: everyone knew that the projects were behind schedule and costing too much, but no one dared to ask for accountability’.22
Who benefits from it?
In 2018, ordinary citizens carried out an innovative boycott campaign via social networks against three brands whose owners are known to be closely related to the royal family: Danone, Sidi Ali and above all Afriquia. The latter is owned by powerful billionaire Aziz Akhannouch, who was appointed head of the government by the King in September 2021. Following this civil disobedience action, in 2019 the Conseil de la Concurrence (Competition Council) conducted an in-depth study on the oil sector, which found evidence of ‘dysfunctions’, i.e. fraudulent activities. The report found that instead of promoting competition – its advocates’ main justification – the liberalization of the sector in 2014 had led to a situation of oligopoly at all levels: from import, to storage and sale, and to distribution and consumption. With Afriquia owned by Mr Akhannouch leading the way, ‘the top five operators [captured] 70 per cent of the market in 2017, three of which [held] a 53.4 per cent share’.23
This oligopolistic situation increased with the closure of SAMIR in 2015, even though the latter had provided 64 per cent of the demand for refined products and had a large storage capacity (2 million cubic metres). ‘The energy bill has thus risen sharply, the trade balance deficit has worsened and small and medium-sized structures have been weakened to the benefit of the largest players’, according to an opinion of the Conseil Économique, Social et Environnemental (CESE) published in 2020.
Full private sector control of electricity
According to official government figures (see Figures 1 and 2), while the target of generating 42 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 was not met, the target of increasing the share of private concessions in electricity production was exceeded. At the end of 2021, the private sector controls more than two-thirds (71.8 per cent) of electric power production in Morocco.
Source: ‘Energy Sector – Key Figures – April 2021’, Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water & Environment.
The ruling elite have made private concessionary production, whether of fossil or renewable origin, a fundamental tenet and element of the energy system. This benefits first and foremost French (Engie), Spanish (Gamesa), Saudi (Acwa), Emirati (Taqa) and German (Siemens) transnational corporations, usually in cooperation with national companies owned by the royal family (Nareva) or by powerful and politically connected families, such as the Akhannouch and Benjelloun families (Green of Africa).
As an example, the May 2021 international solar energy tender for the design, financing, construction, operation and maintenance of the 800 megawatt (MW) Noor Midelt I project was awarded to a consortium led by EDF Renouvelables (France) which included Masdar (United Arab Emirates) and Green of Africa (Morocco).24 It is worth noting that Green of Africa is owned by three of the richest families in Morocco: Benjelloun (Financecom and BMCE group), Amhal (Omafu and Somepi group) and Akhannouch (Akwa Group). Before being appointed head of government by the King in September 2021, Aziz Akhannouch had held the post of Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for over 15 years.
In the field of wind energy, Nareva, a company belonging to the royal group Al Mada (formerly SNI and ONA), is taking the lion’s share via its subsidiary Énergie Éolienne du Maroc (EEM). It currently owns five ‘merchant plant’ wind farms under Law No. 13-09, with a total capacity of over 500 MW, the electrical energy from which is sold directly to industrial customers.25 Nareva also owns the Tarfaya park, one of the largest in Africa, in a joint venture with the large French company Engie. The energy produced in this 300MW-capacity park is sold exclusively to ONE under a 20-year PPA.26
In 2016, Nareva was declared the successful bidder for the huge 850 MW Integrated Wind Project, consisting of Midelt (210 MW), Boujdour (300 MW), Jbel Lahdid (270 MW), and Tiskrad (in Tarfaya) (100 MW). Nareva won this project by partnering with wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa Renewables (Germany–Spain).
It should be stressed that while the Al Mada group, which owns Nareva, presents itself as a leader in the field of sustainable development, it is responsible for the destruction and pollution of several ecosystems. As the author has explained elsewhere: ‘Not only has its sugar producing company Cosumar been involved in pollution disasters but its mining branch Managem in its “Imider” silver mine, located in the south of Morocco, has seen the contamination of aquifers and there is still an ongoing conflict with the local population over water resources’.27
In Morocco, as is seen in other countries, those who benefit from green projects generally have a long track record of polluting and destroying ecosystems. Reorienting part of their investments towards renewable energy is in reality just another, often even more profitable, way of generating financial profits and dispossessing local populations of their territories.
Who pays the price?
The population, both as taxpayers and as consumers as a whole, bears the financial consequences of a system that is designed to be totally inequitable and to benefit exclusively private investors. The concession contracts signed in the 1990s and early 2000s, in particular the PPAs, obliged ONE not only to buy energy from private operators according to availability and at prices that are higher than the effective selling prices for distribution and consumption, but also to bear the cost of fluctuations in the prices of raw materials, in particular coal.
This plunged ONE into an unprecedented structural financial crisis, with the government then bailing it out, through the signing of a programme contract that allowed ONE to increase consumer prices. As a result, consumer bills rose by 20 per cent in 2014.28 As recent renewable projects are all based on similar 30-year contracts, this situation of massive public investment without any guarantee for the population of lower electricity prices is likely to be repeated.
Masen’s decision to pursue CSP technology, which was made without consulting any public body including the ONE, has proven disastrous, with a cost price per kilowatt-hour (KWh) of 1.62 dirham for Noor 1, 1.38 dirham for Noor 2 and 1.42 dirham for Noor 3, while the price at which each KWh is sold to ONE is 0.85 dirham. Masen thus records an annual deficit that is estimated by CESE29 at €80 million for the Noor I, II and III plants.
The issue of debt and financing is fundamental. All recent power generation projects, including the so-called ‘green’ projects, are financed by loans from international private banks, multilateral banks, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and French, German and Japanese development agencies. In the solar energy sector, Masen contracts debts that are guaranteed by the Moroccan state. It uses these funds to develop the infrastructure (roads, hydraulic infrastructure, fences, lines and transformer stations for the transport of energy) needed for project development. And it also uses the funds to finance its participation in the special purpose companies created for specific projects (Noor ourzaztae, Noor Midelt, etc.), as illustrated in Figure 3 below:
Lenders remain the key players in these projects and have the final say on all strategic decisions. Consequently, it is only logical that the lenders’ nationality(ies) correspond to that of the companies involved in the project, whether as operators (French Engie, German Siemens, etc.) or as equipment suppliers (French Alstom, Japanese Mitswi, etc.).
The Safi thermal power plant project, with a capacity of 1369 MW (25 per cent of national demand) and a total investment of €2.3 billion, was financed mainly by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Attijariwafa Bank (Royal Al Mada Group) and BMCI, the Moroccan subsidiary of the French bank BNP Paribas. The company that has been granted a 30-year concession for the project is Safi Energy Company, co-owned by Nareva (Royal Al Mada Group) (35 per cent), France’s Engie (formerly GDF Suez) (35 per cent) and the Japanese trading house Mitsui (30 per cent).30
These loans add to a public debt which, at the end of 2021, is close to 100 per cent of GDP.31 Servicing this debt absorbs more than a third of the state budget and represents almost 10 times the national health budget.32