Emergency meeting held to protest planned Ashkelon power plant project

Attendees said that Israel has alternatives to a form of power they see as destructive to the environment.

gilad erdan great 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
gilad erdan great 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Government ministers, scientists, health experts, environmental activists and concerned citizens gathered Wednesday at Ashkelon City Hall for an emergency meeting to protest the proposed building of a coal-fired power plant in that city. Attendees said that Israel has alternatives to a form of power they see as destructive to the environment, to health, to the economy and to relations with the rest of the world. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan spoke about the rift that he sees between Israel and the rest of the developed world in terms of energy. "In the developed world, we see the development of green energy - solar, wind, water... but in Israel, we know only one thing: we are addicted to coal," he said. "It doesn't matter the price, we will make power the easiest way, the way we're used to. "Israel wants to be developed, but is passing up the opportunity... [by] passing on the direction that the rest of the world is taking," he said. "[The government acts] as if there is no alternative, [but what about] the natural gas that was found off the coast of Haifa?" Erdan called upon the government to, at the very least, postpone the decision. "It's not pressing," he said. "We need to make this decision, but we can wait a year or two." He pointed to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, which will take place in December of this year, and the speed of technological development in the field of clean and renewable energy, as reasons to wait. "We're not saying "don't give the people power," he explained, "but this [deciding to build the coal plant] is not responsible or logical behavior. If they make the decision now, it's out of stupidity, not because there is no other choice." All speakers stressed the high price of the proposed plant, on many levels.   "There is no question, this will be damaging to health [of area residents]," a Health Ministry representative said. "Until now, we have seen the same results that we know from around the world... this is routine knowledge." He said that the ministry is beginning to look at the cost of the health problems that result from coal plants, and called upon the government to examine the health consequences of the project before going ahead. The Health Ministry has already voiced strong objections to the project. Ashkelon Coast Regional Council Chairman Yair Farjon told the story of a family on a moshav in his region whose home had been hit by multiple rockets. When he visited the family, he says, the mother told him, "I don't know what to fear more - the soot or the rockets. "She said she was more scared of the pollution... because it does the work slowly, without us even noticing," said Farjon. "We, the Israeli public, are addicted to soot." He was one of several speakers to discuss the need for Israel to turn to solar energy. A representative from Greenpeace spoke of it as a more logical choice. "When do we need more energy?" she asked. "In the hot hours of the afternoon. A coal plant works all the time, but solar energy works when we need it most." The general view expressed was that the long-term costs of coal power far outweigh the short-term price of turning to alternative energy. "Israel is still not ready to make the connection between the environment and the economy," said Erdan. The only speaker to come out in favor of the plant was the head of the Ashkelon Workers Union. "If you ask workers in Ashkelon if they want the plant, they will say yes, and now," he claimed. This claim was immediately met with heckles, arguments and yells from the audience. "Ashkelon is in desperate need of investment," he explained, citing high unemployment and economic problems in the city. Mayor Benny Vaknin responded by saying that the jobs created by building the power plant would be only short-term, while the damage caused would be lasting. Said another attendee, "We will find other workplaces in the city." Speakers were highly critical of the government's actions up to this point, and called upon the government to change course. "The government must ask if it explored all options before arriving at this decision and the answer is no," said Gil Ya'acov, director of Green Course. "The decision was not made in the right way, and must be changed. The public is voting with their actions... the government must let us be energy efficient, must let us use green energy." Said Erdan, "If I thought the cause was lost, I wouldn't continue to fight. If we work together, we can convince [the government] that this [postponing the project] is the logical choice."