Analysis: Avoiding a repeat of last summer's blackouts

Israelis can be thankful for a joint effort by the IEC and the gov't that kept air conditioners humming even on the hottest days.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
As the country comes through yet another heat wave, Israelis can be thankful for a joint effort by the Israel Electric Company and the National Infrastructures Ministry that kept air conditioners humming even on the summer's hottest days, avoiding the power outages that plagued the nation last year. Following last summer's blackouts, the National Infrastructure Ministry put together a committee to investigate the causes of the power shortages, which determined that the shortage was due to the fact that several power plants had been taken off-line for the company's annual Spring maintenance. "Coming out of those meetings, we made sure for this year that our annual maintenance program is well thought out and adheres to predicted weather patterns," said Hezi Kugler, director-general of the ministry. "We are now scheduling our maintenance strictly around the weather and we have also initiated a campaign among the country's manufacturers to encourage them to cut down on energy usage during peak hours in exchange for reduced rates during the rest of the year," he said. IEC spokeswoman Yael Ne'eman said the the company has learned its lesson from last summer and has taken the appropriate steps to try and ensure that it won't happen again in the future. "Recently we have began a campaign to provide our consumers with tips on how to save energy through television commercials, radio advertisements and with pieces of advice included in monthly electricity bills," she explained. The company is also looking ahead to provide for increased electric demand in the future. Earlier this week, the Infrastructures Ministry announced that it received a permit from the Haifa municipality to begin construction on a power station, a project that is expected to be completed sometime in 2010, which would add some 740 megawatts to the national power grid, whose maximum capacity today stands at 11,700 MW. "Receiving the permits for the construction of the power plant is a big step in the IEC's ability to keep up with power demands," said Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. "The addition of 740 MW is a necessity for the needs of this modern nation and it signals what we hope is just the beginning of the introduction of more advances into the power market." Kugler, however, said this won't be enough to meet the evergrowing power needs of Israel's citizens. "The new plant is not going to solve our energy problems - it should be enough for us for one year, and we expect by that time, sometime in the middle of 2011, to have completed additional plants that we are waiting to receive permits in order to start construction." Ne'eman told The Jerusalem Post that at least one of the new plants will be coal-powered and, at full capacity, will produce some 2,000 MW of electricity. Upgrades, however, do not come cheap. On Thursday the Public Utilities Authority- Electricity recommended a 5 percent increase in electricity prices, effective as of September 1. The IEC had been seeking approval for a 10-15% increase. "The rise in tariffs will help the company improve its existing infrastructure, allow us to build new power plants and give our customers better service," Ne'eman said. Caught off-guard by an early wave of extremely hot weather in June 2006, the IEC was compelled to initiate a series of intentional blackouts in order to protect the power system from shutting down due to a spike in demand because there was insufficient capacity. Meanwhile, the summer is not yet over and Kugler said the threat of a power outage is still very real. "We are not safe yet, but we think the initiatives we have undertaken are sufficient."