THE NEGEV and the Arava are rapidly turning into the global Silicon Valley for alternative energy, President Shimon Peres said on Friday at the inauguration of the $2.5 billion solar energy power station in the Eilot region of the Arava desert. Israel can be a world pioneer in the battle for freedom from dependency on oil and the worldwide pollution it brings, he enthused. The world's first hybrid solarized gas turbine power station is being built by AORA at Kibbutz Samar. AORA is an Israeli company whose modular energy generating system is designed to generate more usable power and heat at a lower cost and on less terrain than other systems. The Eilot region represents 15 percent of Israel's territory but contains only 0.5% of the country's population, said Uri Gat, chairman of the Eilot Regional Council, who stressed the need for a dramatic increase in demography not only for the sake of the region but for the good of the entire country. Peres said at the launch ceremony that alternative and renewable energy projects could be started in the Arava in a small way and could grow beyond imagination. He had already seen the small beginnings of the power station, he said, and spoke of the Arava as a future center for alternative energy, solar energy and water conservation. ACCORDING TO the haredi media, increasing numbers of haredi families will be spending Pessah in hotels despite the economic crisis. Some say that the difference between the cost of preparing for Pessah at home and going en famille to a hotel is so minimal that it's worth paying the little bit extra. A Pessah hotel package typically includes meals, snacks, synagogue facilities, study opportunities, entertainment and use of the pool in a group environment in which new friends can be made and old friendships can be enhanced. It is also a chance for families to be together, yet not get in each other's hair. Most important for the women in the family, it saves on the time and effort involved in cleaning and kashering the house and cooking, so that they can actually enjoy the holiday instead of collapsing with fatigue. Moreover, people who stay home almost invariably invite guests to the seder and to various Pessah meals, thereby incurring more expenses. In a hotel, they don't have to invite anyone, and since most of the meals are buffet style, they also don't have to shell out tips. Also, the menu choices are usually far more extensive than anything they get at home. Some hotels have reduced prices this Pessah so as to fill all the guest rooms, and reservations are coming in fast. WHILE ON the subject of hotels, Israel has the only kosher Club Med in the world. Club Med in Eilat was not kosher in the past, but it is now thanks to the initiative of hotelier David Fattal whose hotel management division is managing Club Med, which was closed for the summer for renovations. The overhaul cost NIS 10 million and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was invited to cut the ribbon of the face-lifted Club Med and to affix the main mezuza. The facility opened this week for business and is accepting reservations for Pessah. Of course, if management had waited another month, it could have used all its new utensils for Pessah instead of buying a fresh batch of dishes. But the newly kosher Club Med needs a warm-up period and between Purim and Pessah is as good a time as any. THE FINANCIAL daily Globes reported that Ma'ariv Holdings chairman and controlling shareholder Ofer Nimrodi has cut his salary by 75% to set an example to the group's employees. He imposed an identical percentage cut on himself in 2008, and as the economy worsens, Nimrodi again decided to reduce his salary to NIS 21,250 per month, which is a huge comedown from the NIS 85,000 which he has earned up till now, though no where near minimum wage. Whether his example will be followed across the industrial spectrum remains to be seen, but it is galling for minimum wage workers who are being dismissed and can no longer provide for their families to know that the sum total of the monthly payroll, excluding management, often adds up to less than what the President or the CEO of the company that dismissed them is earning. Instead of taking from the rich so that the poor can work, these companies are shooting themselves in the foot by getting rid of experienced, loyal workers who are giving their all for a pittance, and are willing to continue to do that just to be able to remain employed, while CEOs often leave after 3-5 years in search of greener pastures. MICROSOFT ISRAEL has announced the appointment of Dr. Avi Mendelson as manager of programs for academic relations and research relations of the Microsoft Research and Development Center in Israel. Mendelson will be responsible for developing new contacts with academic institutions and initiating agreements for joint R&D ventures, information agreements, student scholarships and continuing education projects. He will also be the liaison between the Microsoft R&D Center in Israel and its counterparts around the globe. Mendelson has wide-ranging hi-tech experience in Israel and abroad. HOT CABLE television has appointed Eran Shafir to head its data systems division. Shafir has close to 20 years of experience in dealing with data systems, 14 of them with telecom. In his most recent post he spent five and a half years as head of the BioLog and customer service department in the data systems division of Pelephone.