Israel will focus on alternative energy as a major power source as it faces a critical point in the market, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said at a meeting of the country's energy council in Ramat Gan this week. "We are standing at a critical juncture for the energy market of the country and now is the time to take the necessary steps to ensure that we have sufficient quantities of energy sources either being produced here or imported here," Ben-Eliezer said in his opening remarks on Monday, as he unveiled his vision for sources of energy and outlined measures that need to be taken in order to allow Israel to strengthen its standing as a world leader in the production of alternative energy sources. According to Ben-Eliezer, demand for sources of energy has risen dramatically over the last few years, be it more charcoal for industrial use, more oil for machines or more natural gas to fuel cars, forcing the country to expand its means of accessing these natural resources. "Around two years ago, the director of the ministry met with a delegation of Turkish energy representatives with the goal of beginning negotiations on a pipeline that will stretch from the shore of Turkey to Israel to serve as a conduit to transport crude oil," he noted. Turkey is one of the world leaders in pipeline construction and gas transportation, having constructed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports crude petroleum 1,776 km. from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea - it is the second longest oil pipeline in the world. Constructing such a pipeline, the minister said, would help ensure that the flow of oil into Israel will not suffer in the future. Additionally, said Ben-Eliezer, Israel has signed an agreement with Egypt to pump natural gas from pumping stations in the Sinai to Ashkelon, and also is exploring the possibility of constructing a pipeline from the oil-rich country of Azerbaijan to Israel. Recently, as well, the director-general of the ministry traveled to Russia to meet with the head of that country's gas company, Gazprom, with the intention of negotiating the export of Russian natural gas to Israel. "All this, however, is not enough, and we are going to continue to look into new options of importing oil and natural gas into the country," said Ben-Eliezer, while noting that the adviser on gas-exploration in the infrastructure ministry, Dr. Yaacov Memron, has indicated that Israel is once again making plans to begin drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, confident that with the country's improved drilling technology, finding oil is a real possibility. Nevertheless, Ben-Eliezer said Israel was not going to rely solely on expanding the amount of natural energy sources that are currently being imported, and that one of the primary objectives of the Infrastructure Ministry is to improve upon the country's output of alternative energy sources. Israel stands as one of the world leaders in the production of alternative energy, yet as the price of oil continues to rise, the need for other sources of energy is becoming increasingly more important. "We recognize this and have been working hard to harvest energy from the sun and the wind, as well as from ethanol, which can be blended with gasoline in varying quantities to reduce the consumption of the country's petroleum fuels and reduce air pollution," he said. "Despite Israel's successes in the field of alternative energy, we are only going to work harder to improve upon the solid foundation we have already built." He noted that there are plans to build a new solar field in the Negev, which in its first phase will be capable of producing 250 megawatts of power. The solar plant is set to begin construction in the near future. Within a decade, Ben-Eliezer predicts the solar power plant will be able to produce 8,000 MW of power. Ben-Eliezer also noted that to meet increased electricity demand, the Israel Electric Company has made substantial expenditures for construction of new generation facilities and for expansion of and improvements to its transmission and distribution system. To meet projected future electricity demand, the company's capital investment program provides for the addition of 2,578 MW of installed capacity by the end of 2011, he said.