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The 500 MW NOORo solar complex in the South of Morocco Tasslmantes new neighbor

By Fatima Ahouli (the Human Touch Association) and Boris Schinke (Germanwatch)

The local context


Tasselmante is located in the Province of Ouarzazate at the edge of the Sahara Desert. It is a small
mud-brick village built with the colors of the desert soil. In Amazigh, the language of the indigenous
Berber population, Tasselmante means "the safe home". Many historic monuments, such as the
famous fortified castles called Kasbahs bear testimony of the times when the historic region of
Ouarzazate was home to powerful dynasties reigning over Morocco. Today, however, these times are
long gone. Green fields with fruits, dates and almonds as well as flourishing trade routes have turned
into dried-up springs and streams, perished palm oases and abandoned farmland. While the
Government of Morocco has made socio-economic development its primary national priority, until
recently, the region was politically neglected and economically isolated. It is marked by some of the
nation's poorest infrastructures, concentrated poverty, high unemployment rates, and rural exodus.
Additionally, the region is highly vulnerable to environmental stressors from climate change.
Consecutive years of drought, erratic rainfall patterns, desertification, and water scarcity are now
regular phenomena and pose severe threats to the people's livelihoods.
However, despite the harsh living conditions the region is characterized by its hospitality and solidarity
rooted in traditional religious values. In Tasselmante, for example, community challenges are shared
and solved together among the 200 inhabitants. Weddings are celebrated as if the whole village was
getting married. And because people's lives heavily depend on the environment they live in, the region
is known for its political engagement. People care about their environment and demand the
involvement in any decision-making which affects their lives and the future of their village. This also
mirrors in high numbers of local civil society organizations which used to work on lifting up their
neighborhood out of economic misery in absence of political support. Their work has radically changed
ever since a new neighbor has moved into the front yard of Tasselmante (1 kilometer away from the
village).

Fig 1: The CSP project NOORo next to the village of Tasselmante

Introducing Tasselmante's new neighbor: The 500 MW NOORo solar complex


As a country where fighting climate change is a question of survival, Morocco nowadays is regarded a
forerunner of transitioning towards a low-carbon economy based on high shares of renewable energy
in the energy mix. Under the patronage of King Mohammed VI, the kingdom has set an ambitious
target to achieve 42% of installed capacity from renewable energy by 2020. And since 2013, as the
first project to be executed within the Moroccan Solar Plan (MoSP), Tasselmante has a powerful new
neighbor: the 500 MW NOORo solar complex sited on 3000 ha rocky desert land next to the village.
The first phase (NOORo I) is a 160 MW parabolic trough Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) installation
(with three hours of molten salt thermal energy storage capacity and wet-cooling), the second is a 200
MW parabolic trough, the third a 150 MW CSP tower (both with dry cooling and a minimum of seven
hours storage) and the fourth a 50-70 MW photovoltaic. When the third phase is complete, the NOORo
solar complex will be among the largest CSP plants in the world preventing the release of 762,000
tons of CO2 per year or 19 million tons of CO2 over a period of 25 years.

Fig. 2: Villagers of Tasselmante during a visit of the authors


Contributions of NOORo to a good neighborhood in the region of Tasselmante
High expectations among the local population come with the scale of the project. Where the youth is
lacking job opportunities, where women are urging for their men to come back home from their long
absences looking for jobs in distant cities, where education in universities is mismatched with the job
market requirements, where infrastructure is inadequate, the NOORo solar complex is perceived as the
savior and received with a widespread sense of patriotic pride. Taking into account the different
sustainability challenges prevailing in the region of Tasselmante, the Moroccan Agency for Solar
Energy (MASEN), responsible for the project implementation, not simply prioritizes its ambition out of
concern for the climate, but rather as means to achieve multiple development objectives in local
communities through integrated solar development projects. Besides its contribution to national
electricity generation, the efforts taken by MASEN to address the local needs include:
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Employment opportunities and industrial integration: Recruitment and procurement policies


prioritize local workers and small-medium enterprises in order to achieve the highest possible
local content during the construction phase. This has improved the socio-economic situation in
the region and the standard of living in certain households of Tasselmante. While only a
handful of the 700 direct construction jobs for local workers from the Ouarzazate area (out of
more than 1,600/1,800 jobs created in Morocco/in total) and business opportunities for local
suppliers will remain during operation, potential induced income effects in the service and

tourism sector could spur longer-term economic opportunities that have not previously existed
in the region.
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Skill development and training: MASEN addresses the limited local absorptive capacities by
coupling local procurement and recruitment policies with additional measures. The planned
initiatives in the fields of capacity building and R&D aim to increase the productivity and
competitiveness of the local economy through technology and knowledge transfer throughout
the entire value chain of the project.

Social development and socio-cultural enhancement: Investments made under a Social


Development Plan (SDP) generated from the proceeds of the land transfer for NOORo and
the voluntary measures taken by MASEN that target improved access and availability of social
services are another crucial element in distributing net benefits at the local level. The SDP has
already contributed to improved living conditions in Tasselmante and other adjacent
communities and is expected to become a catalyst for further regional development.

Despite the efforts undertaken by MASEN to positively contribute to socio-economic development of


local communities, there were pockets of frustration among neighbouring villages. These were due to
shortfalls in the project siting and implementation procedures which partly lacked transparent
communication and inclusive participation opportunities. The educational background and the
indigenous language spoken by the local communities proved to be substantial barriers to constructive
dialogue. This led to unrealistic expectations towards the project which, ultimately, resulted in
disappointment and a lack of trust towards the project developers and local authorities. As a response,
MASEN has now increased its efforts to open the doors for local inhabitants and to foster trusting
relationships with local communities such as Tasselmante. Two of the communites' crucial concerns
are currently being addressed. In order to decrease the water consumption of the power plant, drycooling technology will be used for the next project phases. Moreover, the community engagement
strategy will be revised in order to make it culturally more appropriate and allow for genuine measures
of transparent dialogue and participation.
Conclusions
By setting community-oriented conditions for the deployment of utility-scale RE projects, we conclude
that the approach applied by MASEN in the context of the NOORo solar complex provides many bestpractice elements on how to address poverty alleviation and socio-economic development in the
transition towards a low-carbon economy. At the same time, lessons have been learnt about the
necessity of constructive dialogue and meaningful participation to increase local buy-in at all project
stages. In light of the envisioned convergence of climate mitigation under the UNFCCC, the
Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) within
the Post-2015 development agenda, these best-practice elements and lessons learned can enrich the
international sustainability debate significantly. They show how utility-scale CSP projects can be
designed to establish a mutually beneficial neighborhood between solar projects and local
communities that allows for triple wins in regards to climate protection, energy security and sustainable
development.
Fatima Ahouli

General Secretary
The Human Touch Association, Morocco
Email: ahoulifatima@gmail.com

Boris Schinke
Senior Advisor Climate and Energy
Germanwatch, Germany
Email: Schinke@Germanwatch.org

Summary
The Province of Quarzazate is one of Morocco's poorest regions marked by poor infrastructure, high
unemployment rates, rural exodus and climate change. Since 2013, a utility-scale 500 MW solar
complex called NOORo is being installed in this Province right next to the village of Tasselmante. It is
supposed to become one of the world's largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants preventing the
release of 762,000 tons of CO2 per year and at the same time foster sustainable socio-economic
development in the region. This publication highlights the best-practice elements and the lessons
learned regarding the inclusion of local needs during the first project stages. These give valuable
insights in how utility-scale solar projects can be designed in order to not only increase the share of
renewable energy in the electricity supply, but also address poverty alleviation and socio-economic
development.