The route of a submarine cable for electricity transmission to Spain's place has been stalled since 2016.
The project electricity interconnection between Ceuta and the Spanish mainland, of the network Eléctrica Española, is already five years behind schedule. Its execution should be a priority in order to integrate the autonomous city into future Europe-Africa connection routes.
article / Ignacio Urbasos Arbeloa
In 1997, the submarine electricity interconnection between Tarifa and Punta Fardioua in Morocco was completed. This new connection joined the gas pipeline inaugurated in 1996 that crossed Morocco from Algeria to Spain and Portugal, forging a Spanish-Moroccan energy alliance that would enable the economic development and security of energy supply for both partners. This infrastructure, with a capacity of 700 MW, was capable of supplying Morocco with nearly 50% of its annual electricity needs. It was a strategic link for the Maghreb country, which experienced a 5.8% annual growth in electricity demand during the 1990s. In 2006, this interconnection doubled its capacity to 1.4 GW, the first international interconnection between two continents in the world to reach this size. Despite recent frictions between Spain and Morocco over illegal immigration, fishing agreements and above all the Perejil incident, the recently arrived Socialist government led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was committed to strengthening ties between the two sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, continuing with the energy interconnection. Although at the beginning the submarine cable was mainly used to export electricity from Spain, in recent years bilateral exchanges have been balancing out, result of Morocco's strategy of energy autonomy.
From Ceuta, the route of the submarine cable has always been considered a lost historical opportunity. The autonomous city produces electricity from old diesel generators, which apart from being inefficient and expensive, have high levels of particulate emissions in the air and greenhouse gases. The city of Ceuta is the only region in Spain without renewable electricity production, status with little room for improvement considering the scarcity of space for it development. From network Eléctrica Española there is already a plan to develop a submarine cable between La Línea (Cádiz) and Ceuta, which has encountered civil service examination from environmental groups in Cádiz and the mayor of the area himself, which has forced a delay in its installation from 2016 to the present day. In February 2021, at the request of network Eléctrica Española, the CNMC granted the character of project singular to this interconnection, which should facilitate the start of the installation, which already proposes alternative routes in order to reach the necessary social consensus. The submarine cable will have a rapid payback period, as it will eliminate the costs associated with Ceuta's isolated electricity system, and will enable the City to reduce its carbon emissions, in line with Spain's Climate Strategy, which aims to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The cable will join other similar interconnection infrastructures in Spain, such as those between the Balearic electricity system and the Spanish mainland or the submarine cable linking the Bay of Biscay with the French region of Aquitaine.
The cable will also diversify future interconnections between Spain and Morocco, which should grow as Morocco increases the amount of renewable energies in its electricity mix. Morocco, which has an ambitious decarbonisation strategy, is committed to the development of renewable energies as a driver of future national economic growth and as a lever to guarantee its regional leadership. Morocco already has interconnections with Algeria of 1.2 GW, and is planning a connection line with Portugal and Mauritania.
In any case, it is clear that Spain is a necessarily vital partner for Morocco's green project , which aims to export both electricity and renewable hydrogen to the EU in the future. Spain 's position as a necessary energy bridge should serve as a strong argument in bilateral negotiations. In this sense, Ceuta should become a strategic point for future extensions to the electricity interconnection on both sides of the strait. Morocco's strategy of implicit pressure on Ceuta and Melilla by closing cross-border trade or allowing illegal immigrants to cross is a move that clearly meets the definition of a grey zone offensive. The Alawite dynasty has for decades, since independence in 1956, made public and palpable its traditional longing for and strategic interest in Spain's only two non-island territories in North Africa. Connecting the mainland electricity system with Ceuta should be considered as a strategic project for the benefit of national energy security, the reduction of greenhouse gases and the improvement of air quality. In addition, proposing Ceuta as a necessary crossing point in future electricity interconnections between Africa and Europe would offer Spain the capacity for dissuasion and negotiation against a Morocco that does not hesitate to use direct pressure on the cities of Ceuta and Melilla to achieve its objectives in bilateral Spain-Morocco relations.