Bitcoins behind giant wind farm controversy in occupied Western Sahara
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New York based private equity firm, Brookstone Partners, is reportedly set to build a highly controversial 900 megawatt wind farm in Dakhla, in the south of occupied Western Sahara.
Published: 09.08 - 2018 11:01Printer version    
The news about Brookstone Partners intention to develop the first phase of a 900 MW wind farm in Dakhla was broken on Bloomberg. The article cites Dakhla's potential for mining cryptocurrencies and managing data using clean energy.

“We have exclusive rights to the area for a wind farm, but the issue was there’s no real place to put” the electricity, Michael Toporek, managing general partner at Brookstone, says to Bloomberg. “These days, what you can do with stranded power is set up a computing center, develop this as an off-grid project.”

Brookstone founded the company Soluna Technologies earlier this year to develop the wind farm after acquiring rights to the property from Germany’s Altus AG. Soluna announced in a release on 27 July that it is "building a wind-powered blockchain computing infrastructure in Morocco, to bring a clean, and sustainable alternative to the current cryptocurrency mining approach". See more in this Soluna brief.

Western Sahara Resource Watch is concerned that Brookstone seems to have been misled when starting this project on occupied land.

"In the Soluna press release, the project is located in the wrong country. Dakhla is not at all situated in Morocco. It is situated on land under foreign military occupation. Any agreement that Brookstone has signed with the Moroccan government for that particular area is thus null and void. The envisioned energy production is not at all sustainable, but rather strengthens Morocco's belief that it can violate international law and human rights in Western Sahara", WSRW coordinator Sara Eyckmans stated.

"It would be the ultimate sign of a world-gone-mad if we allow digital miners to exploit physical land abandonned by refugees that fled from their homeland. We call on Brookstone to support the UN peace process in Western Sahara by not engaging in a Moroccan infrastructure project in the occupied territory", Eyckmans said.

The UN General Assembly as early as 1979 called on Morocco to terminate the occupation of the area around Dakhla that Morocco invaded at the time, and that the bitcoin industry now want to exploit.

As late as on 19 July, the Court of Justice of the EU again underlined that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco.

It is not clear how the German enterprise Altus AG could have acquired the rights to operate on the occupied land, or which country's laws it considers to apply there. Altus AG was mentioned by Jeune Afrique as having signed a deal with the Moroccan government back in 2011.

According to Bloomberg, the renewable sector has has become the preferred means of mining the so-called digital currencies like Bitcoin after electricity costs increased last year. Bloomberg wrote that the Brookstone firm plans to raise $100 million in 2018 in an initial coin offering to build the first 36 megawatts of turbines. "Those will feed crypto-mining and data centers processing blockchain transactions, which run on 18 megawatts of power, according to its white paper. Completing the entire project could cost as much as $3 billion", Bloomberg wrote.

Brookstone Partners has been present in Africa since 2009, through an entity called Brookstone Africa. One of the companies in this group, is the Moroccan company Platinum Power, with several wind projects in Morocco proper - and two projects in Western Sahara (both in Dakhla and in El Aaiun).  Its management consists of several Moroccans, including Nabil Saimi, who is not only the Africa director of Brookstone-created company Soluna, but also former Director of International Cooperation at the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) [or download].

MASEN is the Moroccan agency that issues the licences to companies that look for opportunities in the occupied territory.

The government of Morocco is trying to find ways to cements its illegal occupation of the territory. Since 2013, the main player in the development of a renewable sector in Western Sahara has been Siemens.

UPDATE, 19.04.2019: In October 2018, Soluna published a statement on its website where it defends its operations, stating that Soluna lies "in Morocco".

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Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
EU Court cases on Western Sahara for dummies

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It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
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