Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom took part on Tuesday in inaugurating the country’s largest solar field, a 10-megawatt photovoltaic “oasis” developed by SunPower on land belonging to Moshav Mivtahim in the northern Negev.

“Renewable energies are the future of the electricity sector,” Shalom said at the launch ceremony. “The development of renewable energy will lead to the diversification of energy sources and thus ensure energy security and availability in the Israeli electricity market.”

The project, which encompasses 25 hectares of land at the moshav, is expected to provide power equivalent to the needs of about 3,000 households, according to SunPower. With its installed capacity, the facility will generate about 22 million kilowatts per year of clean energy.

Requiring an investment of approximately NIS 150m., the solar field took about seven months to construct, explained SunPower Israel Corporation CEO Uri Zarur.

“The potential of solar energy in Israel is still far from realization,” Zarur said. “It is very important that already during 2014 there will be continuity in order to enable the ongoing investment in the industry, attracting international investors to Israel and establishing a real industry here long-term.” Getting the 10-megawatt field online at this time will help the country meet its electricity demand during the rest of the hot summer months, he added.

Also partaking in the launch ceremony were investment executives from the Noy Fund and Enlight Energy, which together recently purchased SunPower’s Mivtahim site and a future 10-megawatt facility at Talmei Bilu for a grand total of NIS 157m.

Ramat Gan-based SunPower Israel is a subsidiary of the global SunPower group, located in San Jose, California and having daughter companies around the world.

Noy Fund managing partners Ran Shelach and Gil-Ad Boshwitz emphasized their excitement at being part of the group to acquire the SunPower fields, adding that the project was “very attractive in the growth of renewable energy in Israel.”

Reiterating the significance of the project, Shalom explained that his ministry sees “the development and the advancement of alternative and green energy sources as an important goal.

And we set a target that by the end of the decade, 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs will be supplied through renewable energy resources.”

Also at the Shalom also stressed that work toward adopting principles suggested in the Kandel Report on renewable energy rates was in its final stretch and, after a long delay, would recommence soon. Drafted by a committee led by National Economic Council head Prof.

Eugene Kandel, the report suggests that the Interministerial Committee for Renewable Energy lower the tariff paid to renewable energy producers, which Shalom said would help lower the price of electricity to consumers.

Also on Tuesday, Shalom took part in a ceremony at which a factory at Ramat Hovav began using low-pressure natural gas. Koffolk, Phibro Israel’s manufacturer of vitamins for animals, thus joined an increasing number of industrial giants in Israel that have been hooking up to natural gas. Koffolk is the first company in the Negev to connect to natural gas through a private distributor – Supergaz – and the second company in the country to connect to a low-pressure network, the firm explained.

“The connection to natural gas energy will be cheaper and cheaper,” Shalom said at the ceremony. “Every connection of an additional plant to natural gas gives the plant the opportunity to... compete much better.”

The increased use of natural gas reduces electricity prices, lowers water prices and provides more disposable income and cheaper production generation, Shalom explained.

At the end of the day, however, Eitan Parness, CEO of the Renewable Energy Association of Israel, warned that “the euphoria” surrounding natural gas was “dangerous.”

“The way toward diversifying Israel’s energy resources and creating a strategic and secure alternative for the electricity market is through renewable energy,” Parness said. “Solar energy belongs to the public, which will continue to reap its benefits for years to come.”

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