Landau: Coal-fired power plant in Ashkelon is responsible

"No one constructs coal-fired power plants because they love them, only because we need them."

reading power station 311 (photo credit: Yossi Weiss)
reading power station 311
(photo credit: Yossi Weiss)
After a six-month hiatus, the battle over the coal-fired power plant in Ashkelon is heating up again. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau insisted to The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that pushing forward Project D, as it is known, was essential to secure the country’s electricity supply.
“I am not even going to dignify with a reply the misleading populist attempts of some green groups. No one constructs coal-fired power plants because they love them, only because we need them. Look at Europe: Dozens of coalfired power plants are going up there because countries don’t want to rely too much on one specific type of fuel, like natural gas,” he said.
“What happens if the gas pipeline breaks or, God forbid, is attacked and there’s no ship to repair it?” he asked rhetorically.
Several environmental and local authority groups have been delaying the construction of the plant since 2002 because of the harmful levels of pollution coal-fired power plants cause.
Landau was giving a series of press interviews ahead of a proposal he will put to the cabinet on Sunday. The proposal, every item of which deals with the electricity supply, will ask the government to release the hold on the Ashkelon plant. If possible, the plant would be converted to run on gas, with coal as a backup.
On Wednesday, Landau said a coal-fired power plant was absolutely necessary, but that he would press for one that would run on two types of fuel. The plant would be completed and run on coal for the first two years and then converted to run on natural gas.
Landau was adamant that there was no time to waste in completing Project D.
“There’s no time to waste to build the plant by 2015,” he declared. “It’s nationally irresponsible to delay such an important project. Without it, the country won’t have electricity. Just one hour without electricity would cause great safety issues and economic damage, let alone a few hours or even days.”
The Campaign against Coal, a coalition of environmental groups and local authorities, accused Landau of camouflaging the return of a coal-fired power plant under the “fig leaf” of first the coal part and then the conversion to natural gas two years later.
The proposal also calls for the establishment of an energy efficiency fund which would come from raising electricity prices by 1 percent.
In February, the Public Utility Authority-Electricity (PUA) reduced prices by about 10%.
At the time, the ministry was furious because the move undermined attempts to create the fund. PUA responded that it was legally incapable of raising electricity prices for an energy efficiency fund without a law that laid out that requirement.
Landau told the Post Wednesday that a draft of the law had been passed around to the other ministries more than a month ago and that the ministry was awaiting all comments before moving to enact it.
The ministry has also complained that the new twoyear budget does not address its needs in the slightest. Landau said nothing had been decided in that regard yet.
Landau has specifically embarked on a process of reclaiming some authority vis à vis PUA and the Water Authority. The trend over the last decade has been to give more authority to the professional level at the expense of the minister.
“This is a major problem in a democracy. Policy decisions must be made by the elected politicians [as opposed to the unelected civil servants],” he strongly maintained.
“I have no control over the authorities’ budgets, development plans, or personnel. The authorities’ officials are dealing directly with the Treasury and its officials. As such, they are at the mercy of the bright young men and women of the Treasury. They’re very talented, but they lack perspective and experience. They’re 24 to 28, maybe 30, straight out of university and into the government system,” he said.
The ministry’s budget, on the other hand, while still allocated by the Treasury, was discussed in a political forum among elected officials, he contended.