A bulldozer works at a magnesium factory near the Dead Sea. .
Following weeks of pressure from environmental organizations, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz made the dramatic decision on Wednesday to shut down four coal chimneys at Hadera’s Orot Rabin power plant.
Swapping coal for the cleaner gas alternative, Steinitz said the facility’s aging units one through four will be closed within six years – once the Leviathan, Karish and Tanin reservoirs begin flowing to Israel’s shores and natural-gas power plants are established. In addition, an examination will occur as to how units one through four can be preserved as a backup source of electricity for use in emergency situations, the minister said.
Previously, the energy ministry had favored installing new scrubbers on the units rather than disabling them entirely – a stance that had roused the ire of green groups around the country. During a Knesset Economic Affairs Committee session on the subject two weeks ago, Greenpeace Israel activists stormed through the meeting demanding a change in plans.
Steinitz said that several factors led him to his decision, including a special session of the security cabinet on energy security, as well as a reevaluation of the price, efficiency and speed at which the scrubbers would have been installed. Another consideration was the progress of the country’s natural gas sector, without which the decision would have been impossible, according to Steinitz.
“These [factors] together created a different picture, which led us to reexamine the issue,” he said. “I thank [Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev] Elkin for the cooperation and dialogue between the ministries, which made me realize that it is possible to go forward with this bold decision.”
Steinitz stressed that the decision is a continuation of the Energy Ministry’s policy to minimize coal use as much as possible, following up on a recent order to reduce coal use by 15 percent in the nation’s power plants.
“It is my responsibility as energy minister to maintain the energy security of all the country’s citizens, with a minimal environmental impact,” he said.
As part of the decision, Steinitz instructed ministry director-general Shaul Meridor and Public Utility Authority chairman Assaf Eilat to formulate an implementation plan by the end of the year.
Elkin applauded Steinitz’s announcement on Wednesday.
“This courageous decision will lead in a few years to the absolute cessation of the contamination as well as the morbidity and mortality resulting from these polluting units, and propel the electricity sector into the 21st century – as is done in developed countries around the world,” Elkin said.
Just before the Economic Affairs Committee meeting on the subject earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Ministry published a report arguing that using gas instead of the coal units could save the economy some NIS 12.5 million.
The units could be disabled but maintained in reserve in case of an emergency, allowing them to be revived within two weeks if necessary, according to the report.
Greenpeace Israel, which has led the campaign to dismantle the chimneys, called Steinitz’s decision “an existential step on the way toward withdrawing Israel from deadly coal and a win for every one of Israel’s citizens.” The organization promised to ensure that the existential step is “backed by concrete measures and a tight schedule that will allow for the closure of the hazard as soon as possible.”
“We took on this struggle to win it for the residents of Israel, who live and breathe in this country, and for future generations,” a statement from Greenpeace said. “Thousands joined the call to close the old station in Hadera, and we are pleased that Steinitz finally listened to the wake-up call from the public.”
While Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) praised the decision, the organization also warned that the effects of coal continuing to burn over the next six years would not be trivial. Amit Bracha, executive director of the group, called upon the Energy Ministry to close the chimneys immediately, stressing that Israel’s energy sector can already be sustained without them.
“Six years is not a short period of time in which the residents of Hadera and the surrounding area will continue breathing hazardous materials without having scrubbers on their power plants,” Bracha said.
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