IEC: Fixing power lines to Gaza will have to wait

Ministry won’t endanger workers by sending them to repair sections of grid hit by Palestinian rockets.

POLICE AND fire personnel stand at the site where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Jerusalem on Tuesday. (photo credit: REUTERS)
POLICE AND fire personnel stand at the site where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Jerusalem on Tuesday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Government officials instructed the Israel Electric Corporation on Sunday night to refrain from jeopardizing its employees to fix an electricity line leading to Gaza that had been destroyed by Gazan rocket-fire.
A rocket fired from Gaza knocked out a power line that supplied electricity to 70,000 Gazans, the IDF Spokesman’s said on Sunday at about 9 p.m. The outage, the IEC explained two hours later, was directly caused by shrapnel from rocket-fire hitting a high-voltage line that feeds electricity into Gaza.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom instructed IEC chairman Yiftah Ron-Tal to refrain from endangering the lives of IEC workers, according to the company.
“For this reason, the IEC intends to fix the problem,” a company spokeswoman said. “However, in light of the security situation, and the great danger that we foresee for the lives of the IEC workers in the event if they perform the repair under fire, the problem will be fixed as soon as possible in terms of security.”
Globes business newspaper first reported on Sunday that the debt of the Gaza Strip to the IEC has reached some NIS 220 million – out of the total NIS 1.5b. owed by Palestinian electricity consumers to the company. During the current conflict, the IEC has continued to supply electricity to Gaza, through 10 high-voltage lines with a transmission capacity of 120 megawatts per hour, Globes said. This capacity, however, is not able to supply sufficient power to the area’s 1.8 million residents, the report added.
Officials from the Israeli electricity market confirmed these figures on Monday, adding that the Gazan debt actually could be as high as NIS 230m.
“Every day it rises,” the sources said.
While Globes cited Gazan residents saying they receive only 12 hours of electricity per day, Gazan farmers from Beit Lahiya said in May they only receive about six hours of electricity daily.
The high-voltage electricity line damaged by rocket-fire accounts for about 10 percent of the electricity supply to Gaza, the electricity market officials said.
Sunday’s self-inflicted damage aside, the 120 megawatts per hour of electricity on a regular day is insufficient to power the territory’s population.
“It’s not enough for the [nearly] two million [people] in the Gaza Strip to have only 120 megawatts,” the officials said. “This is why Hamas is not supplying electricity all day long.”
This quantity, however, is the amount agreed upon under the Oslo Accords and has not changed since.
“It’s historical,” the electricity market sources said. “And from there we don’t build more networks for them.”
Logistically, the IEC supplies the agreed-upon electricity quantity through the 10 high-voltage lines, and then the Hamas government in Gaza is responsible for its distribution throughout the Strip. The electricity market officials compared the system to the provision of electricity to a kibbutz, where IEC supplies the electricity and then the kibbutz management handles all the distribution as well as money collection.
“This is their own system – this is not our system,” they said.
In addition to the electricity supply Gaza receives from Israel, the territory has a 140-megawatt power plant run by the Gaza Power Generating Company. According to the website of the Palestinian Authority’s Palestine Electric Company, the mother company for the Gazan firm, the facility contains a combined- cycle power plant based on four gas turbine generators and two steam turbine generators.
Incapable of receiving natural gas at this point, however, the dual fire facility is currently running on diesel oil trucked to the power plant, rather than on gas.
The facility has two diesel storage tanks with a 10,000 cubic meter capacity each, and the average daily fuel usage of the site is about 700 cubic meters at full operation, the Palestine Electric Company said.
Thus, the power plant can be operational for 30 days in case of a fuel delivery shortage, the company added.
Media reports indicate, however, that the facility may not have been functioning properly in recent months.
As far as the disruption to 10% of the IEC electricity supply into Gaza is concerned, the electricity market officials said “this is a very sensitive issue and that’s why this is a government decision.”
“Since this area is really dangerous and the line that is damaged is on the border, they decided that we are not going to put our workers in danger,” the officials said. “We are going to fix it, but we don’t know when.”
During the ongoing conflict for the past week, IEC employees have been working constantly to treat any hazards caused to Israeli electricity infrastructure, the company said. As part of an effort to engage the public in maintaining safety, the company on Thursday launched a new service on its mobile app that allows individuals to report electricity safety hazards.
“The IEC will continue in its efforts to implement and introduce to the company help system mechanisms that lead to improved service and preservation of human life,” IEC CEO Eli Glickman said at the time.