Trio of EU lenders pony up $380m for Moroccan CSP plant

Morocco crossed two key milestones in its quest to become a solar powerhouse, finalising a €300m ($383.6m) loans package from a trio of European institutions and signing a $1bn engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) deal with Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power.

The package of soft loans from the European Investment Bank, the French Development Agency and Germany’s KfW had been pledged previously, and will cover nearly 30% of the estimated cost of the €1.04bn first phase of the Ouarzazate concentrating solar power (CSP) complex in south-central Morocco.

Other organisations financially backing the project include the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Moroccan government. Last year, the EU provided a €30m grant via its Neighbourhood Investment ¬Facility.

“The EU and Morocco share similar opportunities and constraints when it comes to energy, which makes it important to support the progressive integration of our respective energy markets,” says Eneko Landaburu, ambassador head of the EU delegation to Morocco.

With the loans in place, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen) wasted no time inking an EPC deal with ACWA Power for the 160MW first phase, which will have at least three hours of energy storage and is slated for full production in late 2015.

In September Masen chose ACWA over other groups including the likes of Abengoa Solar, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company and Enel.

ACWA has said it will use Spain’s Acciona and Sener Grupo de Ingenieria to design and build the project.

ACWA’s bid — the lowest received by Masen — reportedly translates to a levelised cost of energy at Ouarzazate of 1.62 dirhams ($0.18) per kWh, roughly double the retail cost of electricity in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat.

But Morocco’s solar ambitions — increasing to 2GW by 2020 —take into account the country’s fast-growing demand for electricity, the falling cost of solar energy and the potential to sell clean power into the European market.

Momentum for the Ouarzazate project— which will be expanded to 500MW — continues to build, even as the Desertec Industrial Initiative faces a wave of fresh concerns after Siemens and Bosch Rexroth decided not to renew their membership.

Earlier this month, Desertec postponed an announcement about the political framework for its first project because Spain had not yet agreed to the details. It intends to build its own 150MW CSP plant at Ouarzazate, outside the scope of the Masen pilot plant.