If given the chance to continue in his position following the January election, the most pressing obstacles that Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau aims to tackle are the bureaucratic hurdles that have often stood in the way of or slowed development.

“I hope it won’t be an end of term,” Landau told The Jerusalem Post at an interview in his Tel Aviv office last week. “I think in the face of the challenges we have, it’s important to complete things that have been done until now and lay the foundations for something new – in particular in the areas of governance.”

Landau says that the renewable energy industry is one area in particular that faces the repercussions of poor governance.

While the administration before the current one had set a goal of 10 percent renewables by the year 2020, there were no clear budgets or plans as to how to carry out the “breakthrough” that he said have occurred recently in the field.

“We have had to go through many bureaucratic hurdles,” Landau said. “And I would say some government ministry hurdles – most notably by the Finance Ministry and independent government statutory agencies that involve themselves in policy delegation that they should not have had to.”

Governance is taking its toll not only on the Energy and Water Ministry but in all offices, and this is a problem that Landau says he aims to attack during a second term. Specifically, there is currently no definition as to “who is setting policy and who is responsible for carrying it out,” the minister explains.

“The fact of the matter is that the energy sector is paying a heavy price because things aren’t clearly defined between the Public Utility Authority and the Energy Ministry, such that the industry itself doesn’t see who is responsible for what,” he says. “This is something that is of highest importance – no matter who the minister here will be.”

Elected officials should be setting policies and be accountable for them, while government agencies and professional civil servants should be responsible for carrying out the policies on a day-to-day basis, according to Landau. Regarding setting electricity and water tariffs, for example, the energy minister should not be involved in deciding which municipality should have which tariff; rather, these details should be in the hands of the utility agency, he explains.

“That’s basically the kind of balance that should be struck, between the delineation of policies and the carrying out of policies,” he says.

While the issues of governance and bureaucratic complexities are problems that he feels still must be fixed within the ministry, Landau also says he has been encouraged by the what has been accomplished over the past four years.

Looking at the electricity sector, he says he is confident that the country will be able to meet its goals of having a 20% reserve supply by the year 2020 as well as the ability to power the nation through 10% renewable sources. The growth of private electricity suppliers – from which 2,100 megawatts are already under construction – will strengthen the reserve significantly, he says. The first to open will be the 140-megawatt OPC combined cycle power station in Rotem, which will be followed by 840 megawatts from Dorad near Ashkelon and another 880 megawatts from Dalia Power Energies at Tzafit.

The onset of OPC’s site in April, as well as the expected connection of the Tamar natural gas reservoir that same month, will also help the country get through the summer with significantly less concern than last year – the year that the Egyptian natural gas supply ceased to flow to Israel.

“We have gone over a major hurdle very successfully without shortages or failures of electricity,” Landau says. “This coming summer we also expect a shortage but it is going to be more modest.”

While last summer the country began the season with only a 3% to 4% electricity reserve – which the minister calls “basically nothing” – this summer the starting point should be between 7% and 8%, he explains.

Other short-term solutions, such as linking the small Noa and Pinnacles natural gas fields to Israel’s existing but dwindling Mari-B supply, have also helped the country remain more secure in its electricity – and specifically natural gas – supply as it awaits the connection of the giant Tamar supply. In addition, a liquefied natural gas buoy should be connecting to Israel from off the coast of Hadera by the end of December, Landau says.

Also key to the energy sector throughout this term have been policies and programs on energy efficiency, such as programs to replace obsolete, gas-guzzling refrigerators with new, subsidized versions, according to Landau.

“The interesting thing is that these projects brought down the price of refrigerators,” he says. “So it’s a much higher number of people that it influenced.”

In the water sector, he says he is happy that 300 million cubic meters of the 1.2 billion cubic meters of water that Israelis consume each year is actually desalinated water and that in a few now the amount of desalinated water will double.

“In [several] years if you open your faucet in Tel Aviv, there will be an 80% chance you are going to prepare your tea based on desalinated seawater,” he says. “This is a major breakthrough that will make it possible for us to start to pay back our debt to nature.”

That debt, which amounts to about 2 billion cubic meters of water, is the result of years of freshwater usage accompanied by lengthy drought periods. “That’s quite a debt,” Landau says. “We hope to pay it back along the next six or seven years.”

Also contributing to refilling the aquifers and repaying that debt is Israel’s treatment and reuse in agriculture of wastewater, much of which has been extended to the country’s periphery as well, he said.

“Within the next four years I believe that most, if not all of the problems of sewage purification in the periphery will be solved,” he adds.

AS LANDAU and his ministry staff members have moved forward with decisions over the past term, they have faced significant criticism along the way.

While the country celebrated gigantic natural gas finds in the Tamar and Leviathan reservoirs, the issue of how to get the gas to land as quickly as possible became problematic.

Landau and his team prefer to construct a northern terminal near Haifa, as the fields are located geographically much closer to this region than to other places. However, vehement objections arose from residents of the Haifa region in July 2010, which Landau called “a major hurdle that was put up by the NIMBY [not in my back yard] people.” As an alternative, the ministry came to a solution of first connecting Tamar to the already existing Mari-B field off the coast of Asheklon, which already has a transmission terminal in the South of the country.

The northern terminal, Landau argues, would have allowed Tamar to come online much sooner, a solution that perhaps the National Council for Planning and Building might have accepted had it known that the Egyptian gas supply would cease, he says.

Despite the fact that first priority has gone to connecting Tamar to the shore via the existing southern Mari-B field, Landau and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are eager to see northern connections crop up as soon as possible in order to supply redundancy to the system. The mayors and the public in the Haifa region have openly criticized Landau for pursuing these plans without first completing a master plan for natural gas connection facilities and performing studies on the government’s preferred alternative of choice – a gas uptake process that occurs on a shallow sea-based platform, with the completion occurring at a small, one-hectare facility onshore.

In response to the NIMBY community in the Haifa region, Landau stresses that it is in the major interest of the country to have an additional two sites for receiving gas from the offshore wells and that the government has undertaken an elaborate process to look at which sites might be most suitable. The two currently proposed sites are Ein Ayala at Dor Beach and a sewage plant in Emek Hefer.

“I didn’t have a position that I put forth on any specific site, so obviously whichever site was chosen at the end you would have people living not far from it,” Landau says. “If you look at all those who were rallying against it, they didn’t rally against natural gas. They were all for natural gas; they just didn’t want to have it within their vicinity.”

Due to the government’s heavy focus on natural gas, many green activists have charged that the development of the renewable energy industry will slip by the wayside – especially since the electricity produced by natural gas is still typically much cheaper than that of renewable energy sources.

Reacting to these complaints, Landau reiterates that the country should be able to reach its 10% renewable energy goal by the year 2020 and that his ministry is expediting the development of green energy innovation and commercial sites. Specifically, he refers to a recent decision by the ministry to transfer a 300-megawatt renewable energy allocation from the wind sector to the solar sector, a move that he says he views as stimulating the development of clean energy at large.

Wind energy entrepreneurs were not quite as pleased with this decision and have slammed Landau for taking away from them what was theirs to develop.

“They really don’t need to be angry because we have replaced 300 megawatts – which they wouldn’t be able to exhaust until the year of 2020 anyway – and made it available to another source of renewable energy which is necessary just in order to fulfill the national goals of 10% renewables in the year of 2020,” the minister responds.

The wind industry has been slow to develop for a number of reasons, with one of the biggest combatants being the Defense Ministry, which fears interference from large turbines.

“As much as I was the one to set the figure of 800 [megawatts] – because we thought this should be the way to go – it was clear to me that this was impossible,” Landau says. “So I hope that we shall get to the figure of 500 [megawatts], overcoming all of the problems.”

The Finance Ministry has also blasted the Energy and Water Ministry for its push to transfer the 300 megawatts, charging that this will cost the economy NIS 130 million.

To these objections, Landau retorts that the Finance Ministry is only against the transfer because those 300 megawatts would not have been used up at all in the wind sector – therefore saving the economy money.

“We can bury all these projects of renewables,” Landau says. “This would save money. We can also save without perhaps building hospitals, without building highways and perhaps without stretching the water pipeline to Jerusalem.”

Yet another criticism that Landau and his ministry have encountered throughout the term, from the Environmental Protection Ministry, activists and politicians such as MK Dov Henin (Hadash), is the fact that in cases of oil and gas drillings, the ministry controls both the implementation of the industry as well as the safety and contamination regulations surrounding it. Due to the Petroleum Law of 1952, which is still in place, the Energy and Water Ministry governs both the approval of drilling as well as the regulations for safeguarding the rigs and facilities from spills and other harm.

Environmentalists have appealed to the government time and time again for the separation of the two.

In response, Landau stresses that the Energy and Water Ministry has established a special department to address environmental issues offshore and is also working with Environmental Protection Ministry experts on the subject. However, his solution to the problem is much larger than just creating a new department; he hopes to see the establishment of one over-arching ministry.

“I think that the most appropriate solution to conflicting interests between protection of nature and development of the country must all be within one ministry,” Landau says.

“I think there should be one ministry – that the protection of the environment and energy and water should be made into one ministry. I think this would provide a balanced answer to one of the problems.”

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