Israeli natural gas field in the Mediterranean.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Fulfilling a vision that has been three years in the making, the Senate Appropriations Committee committed $4 million on Tuesday toward establishing a Joint United States-Israel Energy Center.
The funds, which will match an equal amount provided by Israel, will serve to build a virtual hub for energy collaboration supervised by the US Department of Energy and Israel’s National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry.
A result of the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, the US-Israel Energy Center will foster bilateral collaboration on subjects like energy cybersecurity, the energy-water nexus and renewables, according to a statement from the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who has been championing the center’s launch for the past three years, applauded the funding decision on Tuesday.
“I am looking forward to this partnership between world class American and Israeli universities conducting joint research and development on the energy challenges facing both nations,” Cantwell said. “I plan to work with the Department of Energy to ensure that this promising program is accessible to all interested and qualified universities in the United States – including those in my home state of Washington.
Since the passage of the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, Cantwell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have been leading a bipartisan group of senators in pushing the Department of Energy to move forward with the plans.
“Collaborative research programs, technology transfer, and industry partnerships would connect two of the world’s most innovative countries – building bridges and helping to move important new technologies to market,” Cantwell and Murkowski wrote to the DOE last year.
Ultimately, a DOE official announced last September that the virtual center would be established in fiscal year 2017, subject to appropriations. The center, the official explained, would build upon existing collaborative programs like the Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Energy program, as well as take on new challenges.
The Israeli National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry likewise praised the Senate Appropriations Committee decision to approve the funding.
“The activity of the Joint Energy Center is occurring in coordination and full partnership with the Energy Ministry and the Innovation Authority and the US Department of Energy,” a statement from the ministry said on Wednesday. “We are looking forward to the approval of the American budget, in order to advance the project.”
Josh Kram, senior director for Middle East Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, expressed his organization’s enthusiasm for the center’s forthcoming establishment.
“It took some time, perhaps, to bring all the right stakeholders together,” he told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday. “But showing that joint political will to actually do this thing, and create a funding mechanism to establish it – now we’re off and running.”
The US Chamber of Commerce, he explained, has been conducting roundtables both in the US and Israel to brainstorm how such a center could contribute to natural gas deployment in Israel, expand water and energy production in both countries and improve cybersecurity systems for critical infrastructure.
While Kram is visiting Israel this week to promote the US-Israel trade relationship and advance the US Chamber’s new Business Israel program, he is also holding meetings to help foster partnerships for the future center.
Acknowledging that there are still many issues to hammer out regarding the details of the Joint US-Israel Energy Center’s operations, Kram said that the collaboration provides the partners with an opportunity to synergize their efforts in new, creative ways. Together, the partners could even help improve the global industrial market, by combining their skills and “marrying Israel’s prowess in hi-tech with advanced manufacturing,” he suggested.
“There’s a real opportunity to think strategically, creatively, how a new program, a new policy innovation like this, could really promote and catalyze more activity,” Kram said. “The governments need to know that business is behind this initiative – this is something that industry supports.”