Arava Power Company (APC) signed agreements last week with two Beduin clans to build solar fields on their land, the first such deal ever signed, the company announced Monday.

The Tarabin and Abu Karinat families agreed to lease land to APC to build 20 MW worth of solar fields on 370 dunams at a cost of NIS 400 million.

This is the first time any company has signed a land deal with the Beduin to build solar fields. Moreover, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the US (OPIC) has agreed to provide a loan for 80 percent of the cost, or some NIS 300m.

APC was the first solar company to sign land deals with kibbutzim and moshavim in the Negev and the Arava to allocate land for solar fields.

Finding available land has been of major concern to the solar industry. The government has emphasized rooftops as a natural first source, but has also been rezoning land for solar fields.

Though seemingly wide open, the Negev and the Arava are largely taken up by IDF firing ranges, nature reserves and sensitive open spaces. However, APC has continually contended that just the kibbutzim and moshavim land could represent enough for one gigawatt (GW). Now, the company says it has found a potential source for another GW.

“We are proud of the contract with Arava Power – a reliable company that respects our connection and rights to the land and whose connection to the Beduin community represents a brave step,” Haj Musa Tarabin said in a statement.

“I very much hope the initiative will come to fruition as soon as possible so that finally we can see some vibrant business activity in our area, which for many years was empty and dormant,” Musa Abu Karinat added. “In addition, we will contribute to protecting the environment and developing the Negev for the benefit of all of its residents.”

Minorities Minister Avishai Braverman praised the deal and said his ministry would help advance the initiative, which would supply new sources of income to the Beduin community in the Negev.

MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List-Ta’al) also praised the new initiative.

“We are pleased that a company like Arava Power, and its business partner the German company Siemens, are investing and creating jobs for the Beduin community, which has been neglected for many years.

We hope that the cooperation will afford new economic opportunities for the Beduin, who have the lowest economic status in Israel,” he said.

APC CEO John Cohen characterized the decision as another in a line of pioneering steps the company has taken.

“APC was the pioneer that signed agreements to build solar fields on moshavim and kibbutzim, and we are proud to be the first company to initiate solar fields in the Negev in general, and specifically in conjunction with the Negev’s Beduin community. From our perspective, it is both a financial and a social investment which will advance the Beduin community and the Negev. These agreements are only the beginning of longterm cooperation with the Tarabin and Abu-Karinat families and the Beduin community,” he said.

“The land where the solar fields will be erected benefits from sun all year round, which makes it an optimal site, from a global perspective, for producing solar energy,” he added.

The government has declared a goal of reaching 5% of electricity from renewable resources by 2014 and another 5% by 2020.

The company declined to elaborate on the specific legal mechanisms that enabled the agreements. APC was founded in 2006, and in 2009, Siemens acquired a 40% stake in the company.

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