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First Beduin solar field approved by Interior Ministry
By SHARON UDASIN
12/09/2011
‘New photovoltaic field will offer improved economic opportunities to Beduin population.’
 
The Interior Ministry’s Southern Regional Planning and Building Committee approved for the first time on Sunday morning a Beduin solar field, a joint 8- megawatt project of the Tarabin tribe and the Arava Power Company that will stand on 150 dunams (8 hectares) of land in the Abu Basma Regional Council, Arava Power reported.

“I would like to thank all those who were involved and led this project, with special thanks to the Southern Regional Planning and Building Committee,” Haj Mousa Tarabin said in a statement.

“I am glad there are people who are concerned and are helping the Beduin to improve their lifestyle: on the economic level as well as creating various sources of income. I would like to request that the Provisional License for Generating Electricity [from renewable sources] be granted in a timely manner to enable commencement of the project.”

The Tarabin tribe will be the first Beduin to be able to erect a photovoltaic field on their land, and the installations are slated to go up on privately-owned agricultural territory at a total cost of $30 million, according to a statement from Arava Power.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has offered to provide 80 percent of the necessary financing through its Overseas Private Investment Corporation, according to a letter sent from the American organization to the Israeli company.

However, although the tribe has received the approval of the Interior Ministry, before actually beginning construction of the field the leadership needs a license from the Public Utility Authority, Arava President Yosef Abramowitz explained.

“The Israeli government now has an opportunity to improve one of Israel’s neglected populations,” said Jon Cohen, CEO of Arava Power Company, in the statement.

“This community can become a vital and significant supplier of solar energy in Israel. This is both an economic and social investment that will advance the Beduin population in the Negev.

I am proud that the Arava Power Company has the opportunity to pioneer enterprises with the Beduin that mutually promote social justice and economic benefit.”

His colleague, Abramowitz, stressed that while Sunday’s decision was an important step, it is in fact only a first step.

“The heads of all the Beduin communities support solar power development, but the Beduin are disadvantaged compared to other entrepreneurs and landowners,” Abramowitz said in the statement. “If the government doesn’t allocate a significant quota specifically for Beduin solar fields, they will not be able to take a genuine part in the industry.”

Over the past year, Arava Power has signed five contracts with Beduin families to build future solar projects that amount to 30 megawatts of solar power and 540 dunams of land, according to Cohen. In conjunction with the compromises on Beduin land ownership claims set forth in recommendations by the government’s Goldberg committee, Cohen said he felt that the solar field would contribute to future economic development for the Negev Beduin community.

“There is no doubt that initiatives in the solar industry can accelerate the compromise process in the land dispute and turn the compensatory lands being offered to the Beduin into sources of income and employment for the Beduin community and at the same time generate solar energy in substantial quantities,” Cohen added in the statement.

After the cabinet approved plans to absorb portions of the Beduin population into the Abu-Basma Regional Council during its Sunday meeting, and to create communities within the Beersheba district, based upon Goldberg committee recommendations, Arava Power sentiment remained positive.

“Tarabin’s field, approved on the same day as the sweeping, historic Goldberg deal, is the down-payment on a brighter future for the Beduin, via improved land rights and solar power,” Abramowitz told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday afternoon.

“Goldberg’s imperfections will hopefully be corrected by the Knesset this coming year.”
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