Oil spill near Eilat .
(photo credit: ISRAEL NATURE AND PARKS AUTHORITY)
Election time in Israel means that little will get done by the government in the months leading up to the vote. But when it comes to renewable energy – something that this government has failed to deliver in any meaningful way – the election can help herald a new and better era.
The massive oil spill last week in the Arava only highlights the continued failure of Israel to wean its citizens off of oil for transportation and energy.
The European Union has a 20 percent renewables by 2020 goal; Israel, shamefully, is aiming for 10% by 2020 and is unlikely to reach even that. Indeed, today, less than 2% of Israel’s energy comes from renewable sources.
Voters across the spectrum could make the difference by rewarding political parties that incorporate into their party platforms the 20% renewables by 2020 goal. In the last election, Tzipi Livni and Hatnua were the only party that did so, which helped it win the Green Movement votes and the Environmental Protection Ministry.
Hopefully, the issue will take center stage at the Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy conference that is taking place December 7-9.
Those who cast their ballots on the basis of security issues know how ludicrous plans are for another fossil burning power plant in Ashkelon, within range of missiles from Gaza. Indeed, missiles in the hands of Hamas and Hezbollah can already reach most of Israel’s power plants. The best defense against Israel’s national grid going down in an age of missiles is a distributed power network, meaning solar fields of 10-50 megawatts dotting the country. Even if one is hit, damage to the electricity supply and distribution network will be limited.
The Finance Ministry and the electricity regulator have successfully driven most solar companies out of business or out of the country, weakening our energy security. The current plan is to have 70% of our energy dependent upon a 150 km. deep-sea gas pipe that is an easy target for Israel’s enemies. Common sense would dictate a more diversified and distributed energy mix. Security-minded voters should be lobbying their members of Knesset and parties to add this thinking to their platforms and stump speeches.
Those voters with a peace agenda know that a key component for the Palestinian Authority to truly advance toward political independence is to have energy independence through renewables. For the sake of regional stability, Israel should not only develop its own solar infrastructure but coordinate such efforts with the PA, Jordan and Egypt. If the Palestinians would build 1,000 megawatts of solar in the next three to five years, Israel could cancel the building of another fossil fuel burning power plant. Solar power is also the best and cheapest solution to power the idle Gaza sewage plant. Currently Palestinian sewage flows into the Mediterranean and pollutes Israeli beaches. Solar energy is the energy of peace and co-existence and peace-oriented voters should be lobbying their MKs to make it part of their election campaign.
Israel’s growing isolation internationally is also a strategic and economic threat to the country. Voters who care about Israel’s place in the world know that Israel could be a superpower of sustainability in the world. Hopefully the next government will empower and support our industries of sustainability – water, green energy, agriculture – to provide vital services and technologies to two billion people worldwide who desperately need and would appreciate Israel’s innovation in these fields.
Those who vote based on environmental issues know that Israel’s heavy reliance on imported coal and our own natural gas is bad for the environment and for public health. Fortunately, Israel is blessed with enough sunshine: Solar power alone could fuel over 50% of Israel’s anticipated electricity needs by 2025 when storage technologies will be economical.
Those who will vote based on economic considerations know that providing solar power costs the same as gas produced power but adds jobs to the periphery, attracts foreign investment, and greens our economy for the future. And because solar photovoltaic fields require virtually no daily maintenance, religious party voters will know their power is Shabbat friendly since no workers would be required to work on the day of rest. (Indeed, even the solar powered robots that clean the panels on Kibbutz Ketura take a break on Shabbat.) Arab party voters will note with dismay that 100% of the land-based solar projects have been developed by Jews, with active discrimination against Beduin solar plants. Solar quotas need to be reserved for Israel’s minorities, since our legendary politics and bureaucracy has thus far thwarted any attempts by Arabs to build solar fields.
This has denied Beduin and others employment, dignity and investment.
Indeed, solar energy should be the economic engine for the Beduin in the south of the country, and fuel historic and just land compromises.
Israel’s current leadership and this specific government has failed to implement a rational, serious or investment-friendly solar policy. Voters should demand that creating a solar Israel be the unifying goal of the leadership of the next Knesset, cabinet and prime minister.
Yosef I. Abramowitz is one of the founders of Israel’s solar industry, serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital and as international chair of the Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Conference. David Lehrer serves as director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies on Kibbutz Ketura.