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Desalination facilities to run at 70% capacity for 2014
By SHARON UDASIN
02/01/2014
After two sufficiently wet winters, Israel will be operating desalination facilities at decreased rate.
 
After two sufficiently wet winters, Israel will be operating its desalination facilities at only 70 percent capacity during 2014, government officials recently decided.

Although the country’s desalination facilities in 2014 will have a collective capacity of 510 million cubic meters annually, this year they will only be generating a total of 360m.cu.m.

Following several weeks of intensive negotiations with the companies that operate the plants, the Water Authority, Finance Ministry and the firms involved were able to agree on the 150m.cu.m. reduction, generating a saving of NIS 191m. for the year, according to the Water Authority.

This decrease in desalinated water use, combined with increasingly efficient standards imposed on local water corporations, enabled the 5% drop in water tariffs that occurred as of January 1, the authority said.

The Israeli government is able to partake in such negotiations with the desalination companies because the contracts operate on a “take or pay” principle.

In such a contract, the buyer pays only a fixed price rather than paying the much higher cost of generating additional desalinated water.

“In Israel we don’t have water to spare – we have the capacity and the capability of producing water,” Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “All the contracts are ‘take or pay.’” Because all the contracts are “take or pay,” the government is not obliged to take the entire amount of water that the facilities are capable of producing, Schor said.

“The contracts were built from the beginning this way,” he said. “We built a huge capability of producing a certain amount of desalinated water if we are in a critical position.”

While seven drought years plagued Israel, the past two winters have provided sufficient rains to reduce the production of expensive desalinated water, Schor said.

Nonetheless, if another such drought period – or worse – occurs again, the country is able to “pass it with no problem,” he said.

“When you have a good year then we will produce less water,” Schor added. “We reduced the amount of water from desalination when the cost for buying the water became higher than producing the water from natural sources.”

In addition to the significant improvement of natural water supplies, Israel has also had a more stable supply of water from sources like treated brackish water and wastewater, according to the Water Authority.

Looking at the breakdown of desalination facility operations for 2014, the Ashkelon site – owned 50% by the Delek Group’s (IDE) Technologies Ltd.

and 50% by Veolia – will produce 80m.cu.m. of water, rather than 118m.cu.m., the Water Authority said.

The Palmahim station, which is today run entirely by Granite Hacarmel Investments Ltd., will produce 65m.cu.m. of water, rather than 90m.cu.m., and the Hadera desalination facility – owned half by IDE Technologies and half by Shikun V’Binui – will generate 85m.cu.m., instead of 127m.cu.m.

The newest desalination facility at Soreq, which only came online this spring – under the 51% ownership of IDE Technologies, and 49% of Hutchison Water – will produce 120m.cu.m., rather than 150m.cu.m.

Although a future desalination at Ashdod, operated by Israel’s national water company Mekorot, will have an annual capacity of 100m.cu.m., the plant will only begin operations in around September, the Water Authority said.

With a quarter-year capacity of 25m.cu.m., the Ashdod facility will only produce about 10m.cu.m. this year, the authority explained.

As part of a trilateral memorandum of understanding that Israel signed with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in early December, the former will be able to purchase 50-60% of the outputs from a future Aqaba desalination facility – which is slated to generate about 80m.cu.m. annually.

In return for purchasing this water from the Aqaba facility, Israel would roughly double its sales of water from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to Jordan.

When asked by the Post what the country’s incentive is to partake in this agreement, considering the fact that Israel is reducing its own desalination output, Schor said the Water Authority could not comment on the issue.
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