The Public Utility Authority approved on Monday afternoon nine licenses for the country’s first large photovoltaic solar fields, the regulatory body announced on Tuesday.

The fields will amount to 385 MW, bringing the total amount of conditional solar licenses granted to 1,200 MW, according to the PUA. Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau’s signature will enact the new licenses, and the PUA expects the fields to begin producing power in 2014, the authority’s statement said.

In addition to its large field approvals on Monday, the PUA also approved 50 new licenses for medium-sized photovoltaic fields, equivalent to about 116 MW. The PUA called its decision a “milestone in promoting and encouraging the use of renewable energy.”

The most sizeable of the large field licenses granted is 60 MW to Solar Energy at Kibbutz Gevim in the northwest Negev, followed by 55 MW to a group of companies working on a solar project for Gush Katif evacuees in Moshav Ohad and 50.064 to Zmorot Solar Park.

Next in size is a field by Arava Power Company for 40 MW at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Arava Desert, as well as another 40-MW field by Gilat Energy at Gilat, a moshav between Beersheba and Ofakim. The PUA also granted licenses to four 35- MW fields – at Orim, Nevatim, Beit Hagadi and Zerua.

Executives at Arava Power are confident that they will have the first field up and running by 2014 because their plot has already undergone the environmental and agricultural studies necessary for large field construction.

Located directly across Road 90 from the 4.95-MW rectangular Ketura Sun field, the horseshoe-shaped, 40-MW companion will encompass 600 dunams (60 hectares) of sandy, arid kibbutz-owned land, which once was home to mango groves but is now completely dry.

“We ended up unfortunately without a nice square field – a slightly complicated field to manage and run,” Arava Power CEO Jon Cohen told The Jerusalem Post, during a tour of the area at the end of February.

“But the truth is that it is equally doable because you’re talking about strings of photovoltaic panels and it doesn’t really matter if it’s a nice square or rectangle or a bit of a funny U-shape here,” he said.

The total amount of electricity generated by the field will be equivalent to onethird of Eilat’s consumption needs during peak hours, according to Cohen. Regarding greenhouse gas emission, the field will save up to 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 160 tons of sulfurous oxides and 126 tons of nitrous oxides per year from being produced, he said.

Just because the company received their PUA license and has undergone environmental checks, however, doesn’t mean that Arava Power can start building immediately. The next steps include acquiring full planning permission from the National Planning and Building Committee, and then opening up a file with the Israel Electric Corporation – which means submitting down payments and receiving a detailed analysis that the project can be connected to the national grid, Cohen explained.

After these steps, the company then needs to secure a building permit, apply for a tariff permit and then receive a 90-day rush period to bring the project to financial close. Only then can a solar firm receive an officially signed permit license from the Energy and Water Minister, according to Cohen. Roughly eight times the size of its neighboring medium size field, Arava Power’s large field will contain about 150,000 panels and take about a year to construct, Cohen explained.

Meanwhile, because the largest high voltage distribution lines in Israel are only able to carry about 13 MW worth of power, the new field will have to be hooked up directly to the national grid after being converted into electricity through an on-site substation. The closest hookup to the national grid is about 1.78 km. away from the large field’s location.

The two-story substation will take about a year and a half to complete, according to Cohen, who called this part of the project a “major endeavor.”

In total, putting together this field will require about a $150 million investment and 200 workers, Cohen said.

The location of the field will be ideal in terms of sunlight absorption and cooling, however, according to Arava Power Company president Yosef Abramowitz.

“From here to the border it’s two kilometers, and it’s perfect – it’s flat, it’s east to west, the sun is coming up going this way,” he said, pointing where the panels will be. “There’s usually a light breeze that comes from the north to the south, so there’s a natural cooling action on the panels.”

To Abramowitz, although “the scope of [the project] is huge,” the company has already embarked upon a “Ketura Sun Revolution” by proving its concept with its first medium-sized field. Now, the challenge is to bring solar energy to every citizen of Israel and diminish the use of diesel for good, he explained.

While the southern Arava lacks water, kibbutzim in the region receive up to 800 dunams for solar projects, while those throughout the rest of the country – “blessed with more water” – receive only 250 dunams, Cohen said.

“It is a huge advantage that stems from a major disadvantage that has made life a challenge down here for the last 50 years,” he added. “It’s not like we’ve been blessed. We’ve been punished and finally some sort of a compensation has been found for that.”

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