After 14 years of activity abroad, Beit Shemesh-based Solel Solar Systems Ltd. is undertaking its first project on home turf, announcing Wednesday that it would produce 150 megawatts of electricity per day at a solar-powered facility in the Negev. "Israel's environmental conditions are ideal for the production of clean energy," said Solel CEO Avi Brenmiller. "We forecast that within 10 to 15 years, 10 percent of Israel's population will consume clean electricity and that rate is set to constantly increase and dramatically influence the Israeli energy landscape." According to the Israel Electric Company (IEC), the state energy provider, roughly 78% of Israeli households already use solar energy to heat water, accounting for 3% of total electrical energy consumption in the country. IEC researcher Giora Meron said his company has been prevented from producing solar power by high costs and a government decision placing solar energy outside of IEC's budgeted mandate. Israel Electric began experimenting with solar power in the early 1980s. Its most recent project, completed a couple years ago, was a EU-sponsored experiment at Ma'agan Michael to combine electricity production and water desalination, for use in small-scale projects in North Africa. According to Solel, the government has guaranteed the purchase of up to 100% of the electricity produced by Solel's Negev facility. The Solel project still requires the final permit from the Israel Electricity Authority, and then land must be allocated and environmental and land-use permits obtained, said Solel director of sales and marketing Israel Brenmiller, who is also the brother of the CEO. Solel expects the regulatory process to take about a year, so the project would be built in 2007 and operating in 2008. The company is considering sites at Dimona and Ashalim. Construction of the Negev power plant was expected to cost about $350 million. Within 10 years, Solel intends to expand the facility to produce 500 MW of power daily, at a total investment of about $1 billion. The plant would use 70% solar energy and 30% natural gas to heat water for steam-based power production. Although a relatively expensive investment, at twice to four times the cost of establishing a conventional power plant run on purely natural gas, the facility will finish paying for the cost of its construction in about 15 years and will continue providing electricity "almost for free" for "at least" a few decades thereafter. Rising oil costs over the past few years have dramatically increased interest in solar power, leading to the 2004 legislation that paved the way for Solel's planned entry into the Israeli energy market, Israel Brenmiller noted. "As long as the price of a barrel of oil was $10 or $20, it was hard to convince people to take an interest," he said. Several hundred jobs would be created in building the facility and producing electricity, as well as in preparing materials and components to build stations abroad, he said. Solel currently has 120 employees in its R&D and production plant in Israel. Owned by a group of Belgian investors, Solel was founded in 1992 with assets and employees from Luz Industries, also Israeli, which had built solar power plants in California's Mojave Desert, producing 354 MW of electricity, or 90% of the world's solar thermal power production. The other form of solar production, using photovoltaic cells, is more expensive and limited to smaller scopes of production. Solel is also currently beginning projects in the US and Spain, and examining collaboration with Kadima-based IDE Technologies towards projects combining solar power and desalination.