Israel still an electricity 'island' after PA-Egypt link

The participating countries envision an Arab-Muslim power grid linking to Europe from the east through Turkey and from the west through Morocco into Spain.

A link between the Palestinian Authority power grid and an emerging seven-country Middle Eastern electrical alliance through Egypt would not indirectly alter Israel's status as an "electrical island," an expert at the Israel Electric Corporation said Sunday. Though Israel is providing the Palestinian grid with some electricity, the Palestinians are not required to link to Israel through a two-way connection, Israel Electric Vice President of Planning, Development and Technology, Dr. David Elmakis told The Jerusalem Post. Furthermore, even assuming a two-way link is maintained, the width of the connection between Israel and the PA is such that the electricity coming into Israel would constitute only around 1.6 percent of Israeli peak electric demand and, therefore, would "have no influence on our network at all," Elmakis said. Israel Electric is planning to expand reserves from their current 'very low' level of roughly 5% to the 20%-25% levels maintained in Western Europe, arguing that very low reserve levels create "a concrete risk of power outages at any malfunction" since Israel is an "electrical island" and, so, cannot depend on neighboring nations to supply electricity if capacity and reserves are surpassed. The Finance Ministry has opposed expanding reserves, citing the opinion of consulting firm KMPG that maintaining a reserve of that size would be too expensive and was not necessary. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority have signed an understanding whereby the PA would be able to interconnect with the Egyptian power grid, Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Minister Azzam Shawwa told professionals and journalists gathered for a Media Line panel discussion on Israel-PA energy links last Wednesday. Electricity from Egypt would be "tremendously cheaper" than that produced in either Israel or the PA, Shawwa said, stressing the importance to Palestinian consumers. Shawwa also sees political significance to the connection, which would bring the PA into the fold of seven countries - Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Turkey - connected into a common grid. "It means that we are part of the Arab network," he said, adding that the physical connection to the grid would also help solidify political and economic links among the Euro-Med countries as a whole. The participating countries envision an Arab-Muslim power grid linking to Europe from the east through Turkey and from the west through Morocco into Spain. To become an agreement, the "understanding" needs the approval of the seven other states, which was expected to be granted at a meeting this month in Libya, Shawwa said. The PA's electric link with Israel, he noted, was one reason for a certain level of opposition in some Arab countries. The seven- to eight-month project of linking Gaza to the Egyptian grid at El-Arish could start immediately following approval, meaning that within nine months, the PA could have an active link to the Egyptian electricity grid, Shawwa said. Jordan has been connected to the Egyptian grid through an underwater cable between Taba and Aqaba since March 1999, providing a 10% cushion for Jordan's electricity demand. The link between Jordan and Syria - which would allow interconnectivity between the Egyptian and Syrian grids - has yet to be realized, Elmakis said.