Future solar installations could be shifted to West Bank

Landau calls for more ‘affirmative action’ for Judea and Samaria residents; 10% of Israel's solar allocation could be shifted to W. Bank.

Arava Solar Field 311 (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Arava Solar Field 311
(photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
The cabinet is looking to approve regulations that would allow for the private investment of $120 million to build solar fields in Israeli-held areas of the West Bank.
The matter could be debated as early as this Sunday by the cabinet, whose ministers have been looking to revamp Israel’s renewable energy laws.
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The latest set of regulations under debate would shift 10 percent of the country’s proposed solar-energy allocation for medium-sized fields to Judea and Samaria, sources told The Jerusalem Post.
The move comes at a highly sensitive moment, as Palestinians have expressed despair of reaching a peace agreement with Israel, and plan to seek unilateral recognition of statehood from the United Nations in September.
Palestinians have insisted that they will not talk with Israel until it halts settlement activity. Israel has refused to cede to this demand and has said that talks should be held without preconditions.
Based on the present recommendations, 30 megawatts of the country’s total 300 megawatts for medium-sized fields would go to the West Bank area.
According to industry figures, every watt of solar energy costs about $4 to install, so at $4 million per megawatt, 30 megawatts worth of medium-sized fields would cost $120 million to install.
“This is part of the amendments that we proposed for [Prof. Eugene] Kandel’s compromise,” confirmed a spokesman for National Infrastructures Minister, Dr. Uzi Landau, the minister responsible for piloting the potential change.
The spokesman was referring to an effort moderated by Kandel, the prime minister’s chief economic adviser, to find a middle ground among ministers who have been sparring over the country’s renewable energy future.
Meanwhile, other proposed changes for Israel’s solar state would be an addition of 100 megawatts to rooftops and 400 megawatts to large-sized fields, and no additions to medium-sized fields.
“Basically, it is affirmative action for those who were not able to erect solar panels in Judea and Samaria,” the National Infrastructures spokesman continued. “This is a basic human right that every person in Israel has – which in this case was revoked from certain populations, and the minister is working to fix this. Landau already worked on this subject for long months, and now, it will commence when the decision arises for the government; this will begin as part of the changes that we are demanding.”
The spokesman said that he does not know when a vote will occur about the request, as the cabinet must first accept the comments as part of the solar energy amendments.
When asked for a reaction to the proposed shift in megawatts, the Prime Minister’s Office answered: “Yes, it’s in discussion and we’re waiting for it to be brought back for further discussion in the government in order to pass the program as soon as possible for the good of the citizens.”
MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said that he and other ministers have been getting many letters from Judea and Samaria residents begging for special regional quotas. He added that he told Landau that he would support new solar energy amendments only if they included the West Bank allowance.
“Definitely, I would support it because it’s like – all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others,” Edelstein said.
“The question of general discussion is how much we want on this quota and how much should go to Judea and Samaria – but in terms of fair competition you need a special quota there.”
According to the Public Utility Authority’s regulations on solar power, when buying solar energy for the national grid, the IEC must make a purchasing commitment for 20 years.
Medium-sized fields can include both panels on ground plots – as well as on large roofs on properties – as long as the project owners have land titles, explained Eitan Parness, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association in Israel and head of the Association of Solar Energy Companies.
“As an association we are in favor of production of renewable energy anywhere, so we don’t have any specific things to say about it shifting 30 megawatts to Judea and Samaria,” Parness said. “We do have something to say about the government at large – that instead of adding megawatts it is shifting megawatts, and this is against the goals of the government, to reach 5% production through renewable sources by 2014.
“You have to increase the quotas, not shift the quotas,” he added.
MK Einat Wilf (Independence), a staunch supporter of solar energy development, agreed with the idea that a shift should not replace an increase in megawatts.
“The Treasury is not serving the interests of the prime minister or the citizens of Israel by offering 30 megawatts of solar power to Judea and Samaria from the existing small solar cap of 300 megawatts,” she said.
“There are 2,000 megawatts of solar license applications gathering dust at the Public Utility Authority – 1,500 for medium fields and 500 for large fields – at a time when Israel is facing an electricity crisis.
“The crisis – which is also the outcome of repeated sabotage of the Egyptian gas pipe and a resulting spike in electricity prices – could have been avoided had the Treasury green-lighted more solar caps earlier. Rather than dividing limited quotas based on political pressure, the Treasury should lift the caps on medium fields and support Israel's national energy security.”
But a Judea and Samaria resident, Adi Mintz, said he has been pushing for the government to see this shift through for quite some time.
“Now we have intentions; there is no decision as of now,” explained Mintz, a member of the Yesha Council and CEO of the group Green Yesha, as well as a resident of the settlement Dolev.
Mintz said that Green Yesha joined up with Amana, a large Judea and Samaria financing company, to implement clean energy in the region – particularly solar and wind initiatives – and have already started building 40 systems of 50-kilowatt small roof panels with proper licenses.
“The problem about the medium systems was that until now there is no permission by the authorities in Judea and Samaria that we can submit applications to build them,” he said. “What happens in this market is there are 300 megawatt caps, and as of now there are hundreds of applications coming to build 1.5 gigawatts worth of fields – but the people of Judea and Samaria cannot build systems and cannot submit applications.”
Due to this prohibition, the group began speaking with various government bodies, which collectively decided that the possibility for both Jews and Palestinians to build solar systems in the West Bank was important, according to Mintz, who expressed confidence that the new regulations would be approved.
“We are using the same grid – the Arabs and the same Jews are connecting to the IEC. All the cities and all the villages in Judea and Samaria are connecting to the same electricity producer,” he said, noting that while the Palestinians have their own electricity distribution companies, they still share the same grid and electricity.
“All of [the ministers] have said that the Arabs can also build systems and they can compete in the same possibilities like the Jewish settlements. And whenever we will get the quota, they can get also,” Mintz added.
But to Hanna Siniora, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and resident of east Jerusalem, it wasn’t so clear that the Palestinians would actually have access to building the systems.
“Palestinians want to build renewable energy, but most of the land at the moment is under the administration of Israel’s defense ministry, Area C,” Siniora said. “We are not allowed to create projects in Area C.
“Renewable energy is as important to Palestinians as it is to Israelis, so maybe they should be given an equal chance to do this,” he continued.
Meanwhile, he also stressed that establishing medium-sized solar fields among the settlement areas would be counterintuitive to any progress toward achieving a two-state solution.
“This will actually add to irreversibility of settlements, and instead of having a two-state solution, we will end up having a bi-national state,” he said. “To build something permanent in a way is undermining the process of going to the two-state solution.”
If a two-state solution were to occur after new solar systems were constructed in the region, Edelstein said that he had no prediction as to what would happen to the fields.
“You’re thinking too fast for me – I think at this stage the question is absolutely hypothetical,” he said. “I promise you one thing – that there would be at least 10,000 questions of that kind.”