Protesters demonstrating against the construction of a thermal power plant in Safi.
Hundreds of people staged a protest in Safi, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, against the construction of a thermal power station. Residents say the plant is one too many in a city already suffering from air pollution.
Construction hasn’t begun yet, but three foreign companies, including French electricity firm GDF Suez, have won the tender to build the plant. The project aims to respond to Morocco’s increasing demand for electricity. The plant will be operational from 2017 and use “clean coal” technology. Unlike regular coal, plants that use clean coal could, in theory, use the same quantity of coal and produce 50% more electricity, thus reducing the amount of CO2 released per unit of energy produced. This, however, this has not convinced the environmentalists in Safi.
Protest over the weekend against the construction of a thermal power plant in Safi.

“The trauma of a toxic gas leak in 2011 is still on our minds”

Salaheddine Abir belongs to a local environmental organisation fighting against the construction of this thermal power station, calling for a solar energy plant to be built instead.
This demonstration was planned a long time ago. But so many people turned up because in March, phosphoric gases once again escaped from the phosphorous chemical plant, creating a pollution cloud and triggering respiratory illnesses among the residents, particularly those who live in the city’s south near the industrial zone. This pushed a number of them to protest and denounce pollution in our city, and to reject all new construction projects that could pollute the city even more, because the situation has really become unbearable. [Editor’s note: health problems due to air pollution in Safi were already the focus of a state report back in 1997.]

This wasn’t the first protest here. On March 20, we launched a campaign to wear dust masks in order to warn authorities about problems from air pollution.
Photo used to launch the campaign to wear dust masks.
For us, the danger posed by this power plant is two-fold: on one hand, there’s a risk to the environment because the plant will use seawater to cool the boilers where the coal will be burnt. This water will then be poured back into the sea. Now the thermal radiation released will form a layer on the water’s surface, thus reducing the amount of sunlight penetrating the sea and therefore, the level of oxygen in the water. This could have adverse effects on marine flora and fauna [Editor’s note: since the pipe exits will be several dozen metres below the water’s surface, the impact on aquatic life will be limited].

“Why does Safi have to accept what other towns refuse?”
On the other hand, using clean coal technology reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, CO2 emissions. Our city has been suffering from it for years. Residents still remember the trauma they experienced in September 2011, when there were major sulphur dioxide leaks from the phosphate refinery plant. With this power plant, which will be construction just seven kilometres form the city. We’ll have to put up with even more pollution, triggering even more respiratory illnesses and allergies, as well as acid rain and smog.
Safi wasn’t the first location of choice for this power plant. It was originally slated to be built in Agadir, but local authorities there protested, fearing it would have a negative impact on tourism. Tiznit was then suggested, but civil society organisations and politicians opposed it. Just because our local authorities don’t feel concerned by Safi’s future doesn’t mean we should accept what other towns have refused.