Experts: Israel stagnant on wind, renewable energy

Ahead of Global Wind Day, groups call for clearer regulations and incentives for entrepreneurs.

Windmills in the Golan Heights 370 (photo credit: Jim Hollander/Reuters)
Windmills in the Golan Heights 370
(photo credit: Jim Hollander/Reuters)
The Israeli government has not demonstrated any solid commitment to developing a wind energy sector, and must establish clearer zoning regulations that will enable entrepreneurs to develop their projects, experts say.
Global Wind Day, which was technically on Friday, is being celebrated in Israel on Monday.
While large wind installations can potentially cause interference with military surveillance as well as disturbances to birds in flight, the proper combination of strategically placed large farms and small, residential installations could be the perfect addition to Israel’s developing renewable energy repertoire, field advocates agreed.
“Global Wind Day is supposed to raise the awareness of the governments to the benefits of wind power,” Eitan Parness, head of the Israel Renewable Energy Association, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week. “Wind power has a special advantage when you mix it with solar. It produces energy in times when solar shuts down.”
With an increased use of photovoltaics alone, the country would still need to turn to fossil fuels by sundown, Parness explained. Instead, he said, Israel should be optimizing its use of wind energy during those hours.
“Israel is far behind the western world in terms of renewable energy and we might even be behind other countries in the Middle East,” said Dr. Daniel Farb, CEO and founder of Leviathan Energy.
Leviathan Energy last year launched the vertical, small wind turbine called the Wind Tulip – actually in the shape of a tulip – which aims to provide silent, cost-effective wind energy from rooftops. In addition to its work in wind, Leviathan is also building a hydroelectric unit with 55 percent efficiency – currently in its experimental phase at Kibbutz Re’im, after which it will be sent to Italy.
“Everybody has big plans except for Israel,” Farb added, noting that Saudi Arabia has massive solar plants, while Egypt already has many wind farms.
Denmark supplies over 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources, while Israel does so with less than 1%, according to Farb.
“I believe that there has to be a real commitment to it from the prime minister on down,” he said. “The minister of energy is a really wonderful advocate, but there are so many other industries and stakeholders involved in renewable energy.”
While there are many companies with wind technology solutions that work and can be implemented quickly – including his own, the quiet, vertical Wind Tulip – there is essentially no government financing for developing such wind projects, Farb said.
Perhaps first and foremost, however, the Israel Lands Authority needs to make zoning policies easier for constructing wind facilities, the experts agreed.
“It’s a specifically neglected area,” Parness said, stressing that zoning issues continue to cause a bureaucratic mess when dealing with wind. “It’s not from logic or facts – they just don’t know the potential.”
Banks in Israel do not yet view wind as secure an investment as solar energy because it is a territory that simply has not been explored here, according to Parness.
“Those things are not being done for wind because it’s like an egg and chicken [scenario],” he said. “You need a market and then the financial players will come and act. But you need to jumpstart the market. The government has not only not allowed this jumpstart, but it has sabotaged it by not dealing with zoning.”
When developers construct apartment buildings, they usually want to maximize the number of floors. However, turbines at the moment constitute another entire floor, Parness explained. This policy, which he called “completely wrong,” is in the process of being overhauled by the Interior Ministry, and new rules will likely be in force in about a year and a half, according to Parness.
Nimrod Rosenblum, a partner in the Epstein, Rosemblum and Maoz law firm – which specializes in energy – agreed that a national zoning plan defining exactly what must be done in order to construct wind farms is absolutely critical.
Potential investors do not yet understand the risks of wind energy as they have not yet received clear-cut regulations, and therefore “feel that it is too early to commit to anything,” Rosenblum said.
After establishing zoning laws, Israel should be following in the footsteps of advanced wind countries like Denmark, which not only invests in wind projects but also finances technology development, according to Rosenblum. Companies in Israel with these innovative technologies, such as Leviathan, should likewise be receiving backing from the Israeli government, Parness agreed. “What has happened here is that because there is no special clause exempting Israeli innovative technology from the zoning law, technologies like [Farb’s] are being closed out from development,” he said.
While the experts agreed that Israel should have a combination of both small and large-scale turbines, small-sized facilities are likely easier to implement at the moment. Due to military interference concerns, for example, large fields have to be in very isolated areas, Farb explained.
For the 30-megawatt cap for small-scale wind installations, developers are set to receive a feed-in tariff of NIS 1.6 per kilowatt-hour for up to 15-kilowatt installations, and NIS 1.29 per kilowatt-hour for between 15 and 50-kilowatt installations, Parness said. For the large-scale wind energy quota, which is 800 megawatts, developers will receive around 60 agorot per kilowatt-hour. Electricity prices are currently about 62 agorot per kilowatthour, including taxes.
A single small turbine that is about 4.5 meters tall by 2.5 meters wide, on a flat rooftop, costs about $10,000, while a cluster of 15 would cost about $135,000, Farb said. The 30- megawatt quota has hardly been used at all, with only two small turbines built since the quota’s establishment in 2009, while the 800-megawatt quota approved last July has not yet been touched. Israel will likely never see more than 15 large projects of wind energy, and the government’s decision to approve such an enormous quota is “completely artificial,” 4according to Parness.
“They have approved a big quota of wind because it is hard to fulfill,” he said. “It is quite funny that the decision-makers have decided up on wind without even seeing one wind turbine,” Parness added, noting that the government conducted no studies of wind turbines abroad before determining these numbers.
Parness, however, was optimistic that changes for the better are on the way. For example, the old Golan Heights wind farm is slated to expand soon from its current 6 megawatts to 14 megawatts, although funding is a huge obstacle due to its politically controversial location. Meanwhile, a 55-megawatt project is being promoted in the Eilat region, and Gilboa as well as certain areas in Judea and Samaria show great potential for wind energy, Parness said.
“I think the awareness of the damages of fossil fuels is transforming the public opinion throughout the world,” Parness said. “Also, in a place as small in Israel, when this summer you won’t be able to drive without seeing black smoke coming out of the chimneys, the public will be aware and will make it easier for a small number of projects to be built.”
“I believe that when wind turbines will be built and the public will see them, it will be out there – they will see that it’s not as frightening as it seems now,” he added.
A cocktail hour and short conference in honor of Global Wind Day will take place on Monday evening in Tel Aviv, arranged by Parness’s Renewable Energy Association of Israel, the Global Wind Energy Council and the European Wind Energy Association.