Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved the first step of a plan to build electricity storage facilities that, among other purposes, will provide a solution for some haredi citizens who prohibit the use of energy that was produced on Shabbat, the Energy Ministry said in a statement.
The storage facilities will also serve as an energy solution for a central challenge in the use of renewable energies, which is that they are usually unavailable throughout the entire day and are dependent on external conditions. The stored electricity can compensate for renewable energies when necessary, and thus the government's decision could enable the broadening of renewable energy usage, according to the ministry's statement.
The first step of the plan is for the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to construct a pilot storage facility, which will enable the market and regulators to examine its technological applicability and the mechanism that will connect the facilities to the national power grid. In addition, the pilot facility must be sold to the private sector within three years, so as to prevent it in the long term from being part of the IEC's monopoly, a concern that was raised in the legal opinions that accompanied the decision. The arrangement will also not allow for any cross-subsidization and the plan will not be funded by raising prices for all electricity consumers, according to the decision.
Approximately 30% of Israel's haredi citizens do not use electricity on Shabbat, according to Rabbi Yosef Cohen, CEO of a nonprofit called the "Committee for Matters Relating to Energy-Use on Shabbos." The reason for this is that according to Halacha (Jewish law), one is prohibited on Shabbat from enjoying the outcome of labor by another Jew that was done in violation of Halacha. Jews are involved in providing electricity on Shabbat, and therefore its use is prohibited, Cohen explained.
The 70% of haredim who enjoy electricity on the Shabbat (that was switched on prior to Shabbat, as switching on an electric appliance is also prohibited), do so based on a ruling that if the electricity is also being used in a way that is permitted on Shabbat, such as saving lives in a hospital, the rest of the population may benefit from the electricity as well, Cohen added.
The electricity that was stored during the week and then automatically provided on Shabbat is permitted, and thus constructing electric storage facilities solves the problem, Cohen said.
Energy Minister Israel Katz (Likud) wlecomed the decision in a video statement, describing it as a decision to store electricity when it is in low demand, in order to supply it at peak demand in the summer and winter. In addition, this will solve the problem that some haredi neighborhoods currently use unsafe and pollutive generators so as not to be dependent on the power grid, Katz said.
"This is something that is completely good, but you won't hear about it from the press because they are anti-government and anti-haredi, and don't publish all the facts," Katz said, adding that the plan was approved by all of the relevant professional bodies.
"This is something that is completely good, but you won't hear about it from the press because they are anti-government and anti-haredi, and don't publish all the facts."Israel Katz
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), who is haredi, welcomed the decision, saying to reporters as he left the cabinet meeting that the plan included security, economic and environmental advantages, and would lower the high cost of living.
UTJ MK and Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chairman Yakov Asher also praised the decision, calling it a "blessed decision that symbolizes how efficient cooperation can contribute to the electricity market, the environment and consumers who observe Shabbat."
Who criticizes the decision to give Israel "kosher electricity" for Shabbat?
Yisrael Beytenu chairman and former finance minister MK Avigdor Liberman criticized the decision in a Twitter post on Sunday morning.
"Constructing the storage facilities includes an immense investment of billions of shekels. First, large public spaces will be dedicated to the facilities, in addition to a very complicated statutory approval process, since these facilities are not exactly environment-friendly and could raise opposition. In addition, one of the important elements in the facilities is lithium, which is the most expensive metal in the world," Liberman explained, adding that "this entire expenditure will fall via the electricity rate on all of the consumers in the state of Israel."
"It is clear to us all who will fund this, it is that same middle class, the same people who serve in the IDF, do reserve duty, work and pay taxes. This is not a fight against the high cost of living, it is creating and worsening the high cost of living."Avigdor Liberman
Liberman claimed that according to his calculations, the eventual electricity storage across the country will cost NIS 90 billion. "It is clear to us all who will fund this, it is that same middle class, the same people who serve in the IDF, do reserve duty, work and pay taxes. This is not a fight against the high cost of living, it is creating and worsening the high cost of living.
"Take responsibility and resign," Liberman concluded.
URI Kediar, CEO of Israel Hofsheet, an NGO that opposes religious coercion, argued that the decision was another "delusional" decision that reflects the path of the "government of religious coercion."
"Again, the demands of a small and extreme faction have become a problem for the general public, at the expense of the general public, that is taking precedence over the real needs of the general public," Keidar said, adding that if the decision became reality, his organization will work in "any method" to stop it.
"There will not be kosher electricity in Israel that we will all pay for," Keidar concluded.
Dan Ben-David, head of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research and an economist at Tel Aviv University, said to The Jerusalem Post: "While the issue of electricity storage is certainly important on a national scale – in general – there is a question if this current focus constitutes a good use of very scarce resources. Israel’s population is growing exponentially and it takes years to create new power plants, an issue that needs to take precedence since no one will have power on Shabbat if we won’t have the capacity to create sufficient amounts in a few years."
The international environmental activism organization Greenpeace praised the decision, as it would reduce the use of pollutive generators. The organization said that the decision should be expanded so that the "kosher electricity" itself comes from renewable energy. It also called on the government to construct many electricity storage facilities across the country, especially near densely populated areas.
The decision was a "critical step towards Israel's move to renewable energy, decreasing the dependency on pollutive gases and creating a democratic and decentralized energy market. The move will be beneficial not only to the environment, climate and health – but also for Israel's security and energy resilience," Greenpeace said.
It was not immediately clear whether or not the decision to approve the "kosher electricity" had to do with ongoing tension between Netanyahu and the haredi parties over promises made in the coalition agreements that were signed in December.
The agreements stipulate that a new bill that would lower the age of exemption for haredi conscripts into the IDF pass by the time the budget passes, on May 29. This is unlikely to happen as there is not enough time to pass the law. Shas and the Lithuanian part of UTJ, Degel Hatorah, reportedly have already agreed to delay the passing of a new conscription bill. The Hassidic part of UTJ, Agudat Yisrael, has not yet officially agreed to the delay.
In addition, the funding that appears in the upcoming budget for haredi private school systems is less than what the haredi parties were promised in the coalition agreements. This fact led to an angry tirade against Netanyahu by Jerusalem and Tradition Minister Meir Porush (Agudat Yisrael).
While Maklev's spokesperson said that the "kosher electricity" was going to pass in any case and was unrelated to the draft and education issues, Netanyahu's choice to pass it specifically in this week's cabinet meeting on Sunday, could be a gesture by Netanyahu intended to appease his partners.