A solar revolution dawns in the desert

Arava firm says it can revolutionize Israel's energy market.

November 4, 2008 00:09
4 minute read.
A solar revolution dawns in the desert

arava power solar panel 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The Arava Power Company (APC) announced Monday an agreement to utilize kibbutz land in the Arava and the Negev for solar fields generating at least 500 MW, and eventually one gigawatt (GW) or more - a move which could potentially revolutionize Israel's energy market and put the country solidly on the path of electricity from renewable sources. In addition to the basic environmental value of so much solar energy, it could also potentially make the new coal-burning plant being planned for Ashkelon redundant. The APC management declared at a press conference in Tel Aviv that they had lined up two out of three of the requirements for large-scale production of solar energy - land and investors. All that is left is for the Public Utilities Authority (PUA) to approve a feed-in tariff (FIT) of at least NIS 1.80 per kilowatt hour for medium sized plants of up to five MW, they said. Such a tariff is currently in the works. Once the process is approved, APC said it should be about six more months before a 5 MW field is up and running. According to the agreement, which the company spent the better part of a year hammering out, 15 kibbutzim, among them Ketura and Yotvata, would divert a portion of their agricultural land for solar fields. Jon Cohen, VP of regional development, who worked out the agreement, added that they expected five to eight more kibbutzim to sign on by the end of the year. He added that there were another 15 kibbutzim who had expressed interest. The company has also lined up a series of international backers interested in investing in the fields as soon as a feed-in tariff is passed. The potential investment is about $3 billion, said David Hayon, VP for government relations and business development. A five MW field requires about $30 million and 80-100 dunams of land, he said. At the moment, APC was the only company in Israel developing medium to big fields, he claimed. PUA has a meeting at the end of the month to finalize the terms of the tariff and then open it up to public comments, Hayon added. "The kibbutzim are already pioneers and solar [power] is the continuation of that pioneering spirit," APC President Yosef Abramowitz declared. "Europe is aiming for 20 percent of its energy from renewables and they have half the sunshine that we have. We should be at 40%," he added. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has set a goal of 20% renewable energy by 2020. Total demand countrywide for electricity stands at a little above 11,000 MW (11 GW). One GW would therefore represent about half of Ben-Eliezer's goal already. However, the minister's media adviser, Assaf Azulai, told the Post that APC's efforts did not obviate the need for a coal-burning power station. The current energy crisis requires immediate solutions, he said, and the solar fields won't be ready in time, he claimed. This year, reserves were down to 2%, the Electric Company has said. Next year, the reserves are expected to drop to -2% as demand keeps rising. Solar energy in Israel got its big push earlier this year with the approval of a feed-in tariff for household stations of up to 50KW. A feed-in tariff is an accepted method of encouraging solar energy. The government buys electricity for the national grid at a rate per kilowatt hour which makes solar energy production feasible. With the passing of the first feed-in tariff, solar energy production on a larger scale got moving. The APC has also successfully lobbied for changes in regulations and tariffs to enable solar production. A new land regulation passed this year enabled the kibbutzim to devote a significant portion of land for non-agricultural use through a non-kibbutz partner, Yisrael Gilad explained. Gilad is a consultant to APC on issues of land and land regulations. Gilad added that there were potentially thousands of dunams of kibbutz land in the Arava and the Negev which could be turned into solar fields. Before the passing of the new regulation, most of the land in the Negev and the Arava was tied up in kibbutzim, or IDF firing zones and nature reserves, neither of which could be diverted to solar use, he told the Post. Abramowitz noted that their announcement about solar energy for Israel coincided with Jewish Social Action Month, which fits in with the company's ideals and vision. APC is a joint partnership of Kibbutz Ketura, Ed Hofland and Abramowitz and his backers from the US. After making aliya from Boston two years ago with his family, Abramowitz looked around and realized no one was really making solar energy a reality in Israel, he told The Jerusalem Post recently. "A new potential emerged with the rising of the sun today. APC was founded at Kibbutz Ketura. The kibbutz was founded 35 years ago by Americans from the Young Judea movement, who were Zionist pioneers," he said at the press conference on Monday. "We wanted to help Israel realize a dream - To become a player in reducing greenhouse gases. Our backers are Jewish Zionist donors from the US, idealists and environmentalists," he said. Orit Marom Albeck, who runs the Shibolet law firm's CleanTech practice group, said they hoped to draw Israeli companies back home. "Many Israeli companies are operating abroad. We have an opportunity to encourage them to operate here provided there is a beneficial [government] policy," she said.

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