Construction begins on Israel's first solar field

Tthe country’s first solar field is going up near Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava; new regulations to outlaw inefficient lightbulbs, appliances.

Solar Field 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
Solar Field 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Despite the uncertainty the Treasury has generated for the renewable energy sector, the Arava Power Company on Tuesday celebrated the start of construction of the first solar field in Israel.
The gala event at Kibbutz Ketura took place as part of the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference, which began Tuesday and runs until Thursday.
The 4.9 megawatt (MW) field at the kibbutz will be the country’s first mediumsized field when it is completed in May.
Arava Power has been working towards this first milestone since 2006 and has plans to create medium and large-sized fields on kibbutz land all over the Negev and Arava. The 80 dunam field will cost NIS100m. to build.
A medium-sized field is one that produces between to kilowatts and five megawatts.
National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, who attended the ceremony, remarked that it was no small achievement to have hurdled all of the bureaucratic obstacles to reach the actual construction phase.
“I have the privilege of being able to remember that a year ago, there was nothing here,” he said standing in the field alongside Ketura, which will soon be dotted with solar panels, “and now we can see real development.”
“The real achievement is to have overcome the Israeli bureaucracy. If you did that, then you’ll be able to handle anything.
My ministry will do everything it can to continue and promote the vision of Ben-Gurion. We need to do what we can,” he continued.
In a veiled reference to the Finance Ministry, Landau added, “This is not just economics, but rather historical justice of the Zionist enterprise. My ministry has assisted this project until now and will continue to do so.”
The Finance Ministry recently demanded a reassessment of the costs of power generation from renewable energy, citing a formula that they claimed made any feed-in tariff above NIS 0.40 per kilowatt hour too high. All of the feed-in tariffs that have been set so far exceed that number, going up to NIS 1.49 per kilowatt hour.
A feed-in tariff is how much the government will pay for each kilowatt hour generated.
Contracts are usually set for 20 or 25 years. Power generation from coal costs about NIS 0.28 per kilowatt hour, according to the Finance Ministry, and residents pay about NIS 0.50 per kilowatt hour.
It is as yet unclear what long-term effect the Treasury’s call will have on government policy and on the market. One immediate effect, however, was an effective freeze on licenses to build large fields.
Licenses for medium-sized fields, however, will continue to be granted, and, in fact, the Public Utilities Authority – Electricity said Tuesday that it had granted another 30. So far, PUA has granted 86 licenses for 138 MW – 46% of the 300 MW quota it has set for solar power. PUA also said 674 requests for licenses had been received.
To date, the PUA has granted licenses for 517 MW of renewable energy. The interim goal by 2014 is 1,550 MW. Of the licensed 517 MW, half are set to come from solar power and the rest from wind, bio-gas, biomass and hydro installations.
The National Infrastructures Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority also announced this week that they would be publishing land tenders for solar fields in the Negev area.
At Kibbutz Ketura on Tuesday, David Rosenblatt, one of the founders of Arava Power, criticized the government’s quota policy.
“We are at a critical moment in the development of the solar industry in Israel.
We started in 2006 when just one company was active in the field. Now there are over a hundred companies. The problem is that the quota is too small.
“Israel must articulate a policy that encourages growth in the industry. The EU has set a goal of 20% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Israel has set a goal of 10% by 2020 but, right now, it’s talking about reducing the quotas.
Instead of moving forward, the country is moving backwards, and therefore this is a critical moment,” he declared.
Meanwhile, the National Infrastructures Ministry succeeded in garnering approval for three new regulations that will save electricity. The three new regulations restrict the import and sale of electricity guzzling TV tuners, appliances with a standby function, and inefficient light bulbs. The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee approved all three on Tuesday.
According to the ministry, TV tuners utilize one billion kilowatt hours a year. By 2020, via the new regulations, the ministry expects savings of 700 million kilowatt hours.
Without regulations for standby functions, five billion kilowatt hours a year would be used by machines on standby by 2020. With the regulations, 1.5 billion kilowatt hours a year will be saved by 2020.
The final regulation prohibits the sale of the old-style incandescent light bulbs and halogen bulbs over 60 watts. Europe has already outlawed such bulbs.
The regulations are part of the ministry’s national energy efficiency plan – the goal of which is to reduce demand by 20% by 2020. Electricity generation is stretched very thin in summertime, while demand continues to rise by about 4% a year.