US to establish American-Israeli energy center in coming year

The center will build on programs such as the BIRD Energy program and the upcoming energy- water desalination challenge.

September 15, 2016 05:12
3 minute read.
An Israeli desalination plant.

An Israeli desalination plant.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The United States Department of Energy is preparing to establish a US-Israel joint energy research center in 2017, a DOE official announced at a congressional hearing last week.

“Our department is preparing to establish in [Fiscal Year] 2017 a virtual center that will facilitate joint research in energy and related areas, subject to appropriations,” Jonathan Elkind, the department’s assistant secretary for international affairs, told participants in a joint subcommittee hearing.

The US government’s Fiscal Year 2017 beings on October 1, 2016 and will end on September 30, 2017.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will begin consultations with Israel on the focus of that center, but we expect that the center could resemble similar technology collaborations that involve contributions from both partner countries, as well as a private sector matching requirement from within each country to maximize the center’s impact,” he said.

Elkind was addressing a joint session at the House of Representatives of the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy.

While providing a broad view of Israeli energy developments and the country’s existing collaborations in the sector with the US, Elkind stressed the importance of establishing the shared research center.

The center will build on the “extensive engagement that already exists between our two countries through the US–Israel Energy Dialogue, as well as programs such as the BIRD [Binational Industrial Research and Development] Energy program, the upcoming energy- water desalination challenge, and others,” he said. “We are confident that a potential new center would help benefit US–Israel energy cooperation.”

The initiative stems from the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014. Since the passage of that law, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has been pushing the Department of Energy to move forward with the center’s launch.

In May 2015, the senators first sent a letter to Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, urging him to “waste no time in establishing the center for the benefit of the United States and Israel.”

In May 2016, the senators followed up with an additional letter, reminding Moniz that 11 months had passed “without action demonstrating the department’s intent to establish the center.” The letter reached Moniz a month after he had visited Israel, where he and his counterpart, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, signed an agreement to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of fuel substitutes, natural gas, electricity and water.

While expressing their support for the progress made during his trip, the senators urged Moniz to expedite the center’s establishment, stressing its “potential to be a leading hub for innovation and research and development for global energy and water issues.”

In August, Moniz replied to the letter, confirming that he has directed the Department of Energy to work with Israel to establish the joint research center in 2017.

“The ongoing relationship with Israel remains a priority for the Department, and I support expanded collaboration with our Israeli counterparts,” Moniz wrote to Cantwell, in a letter shared by her office. “You and your colleagues have expressed a keen interest in the establishment of a joint US-Israel Energy Center, and I share that goal.”

In response to both Moniz’s letter and Elkind’s announcement in the joint subcommittee session, Cantwell applauded the DOE for moving forward with the research center.

“This act [the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014] builds on the Department of Energy’s existing collaborations with our critical ally,” Cantwell said. “Establishing a joint center for innovation in areas of mutual interest including clean energy, water efficiency and cybersecurity could not come at a better time, given the rapidly changing global energy landscape.”

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