Groups call on gov’t to up solar energy quotas

"More rooftop panels can decrease the need for polluting diesel generators," say environmental activists.

Green groups protesting for more solar energy 370 (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Green groups protesting for more solar energy 370
(photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Chanting gripes over megaphones, representatives from various green organizations gathered opposite the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Monday morning during the weekly cabinet meeting, demanding that the government increase solar energy quotas.
Increased solar quotas, they argue, would be an effective and easy way to help combat the electricity shortages that the country is likely to face this summer.
“[Energy and Water Minister Uzi] Landau is polluting Israel,” protesters chanted in unison.
“Uzi, decide – are you green, are you black, now is the time to choose.”
Accompanying the sometimes rhyming Hebrew chants were large posters with headshots of Netanyahu and Landau fractured down the middle, half of their faces green and half a smoky gray, with a huge slogan of “Decide!” underneath their portraits.
Leading the protest was Eitan Parness of the Renewable Energy Association and Itamar Steinmetz, the head of the Labor party’s social and environmental department, who alternately emphasized that having the option to produce green energy is an element of social justice, and that the government must take responsibility for the welfare of its people.
At Monday’s cabinet meeting, the ministers were slated to discuss an emergency plan for dealing with the summer’s anticipated shortages, but the discussion was postponed for a future week’s session.
“Black electricity – you are forbidden to choose,” Parness chanted, adding words like “carbon” and “cancer” to the mix.
Last Wednesday, eight environmental organizations – many of which were present at the protest – had appealed to Netanyahu, asking that he promote a solar quota increase as a simple and clean way of helping to bridge the gaps that might occur this summer. The eight groups were the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI), the Israel Forum for Energy, the Renewable Energy Association of Israel, Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), Life and Environment umbrella group for green organizations, Greenpeace Mediterranean, Israel Green Building Council and Green Course. Specifically calling for an increase in solar rooftop allocations, the appeal to Netanyahu complained that this year’s quotas of 35 megawatts had already been fulfilled in March, with many applications still outstanding.
The same day, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) had sent a letter to Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) asking him to support a solar production increase by bringing forward a proposal for government approval.
At the time, the Energy and Water Ministry said that it received the request to incorporate solar quotas into the proposal and that it would examine the matter, a statement that the office echoed on Monday as well, in response to the protests.
“What they are doing is postponing and delaying the approval of a new governmental decision that would allow us to build solar rooftops, and this is actually done by malice, and we will oppose it, of course, and we’ll demonstrate,” Parness told The Jerusalem Post, on the sidelines of the protest.
Parness said that he did not “believe a word” of the ministry’s promises to examine the proposal for a quota increase, as he had approached them with the idea months ago.
“This industry has lost any belief it had in this green new horizon. It has actually been beaten, and we’re suffering tremendously,” Parness added.
“We’re suffering from a bad policy by the government, a zig-zag.” Steinmetz echoed Parness’s sentiments, telling the Post that he doubts that the government will actually increase the quotas for the coming summer, as the government officials “want to do the minimum that they can.”
As a member of the Labor party, however, he said he felt the responsibility to continue to convince them otherwise.
“The Labor party is the social party in Israel,” Steinmetz said.
“It’s the party that says the country should take care of the people, should be responsible for the people. Part of it means they need to be responsible for the health of the people, the air they breathe, and you know, what electricity they get – this is basic.” Yossi Abramowitz, the president of Arava Power Company, stood aside his 13-yearold son, joining in the chants.
“The only thing more embarrassing than firing up diesel generators is the actual blackout – but it would’ve been prevented if they actually had lifted the solar caps,” Abramowitz said.
In terms of the financial value of installing solar rooftop panels, Parness explained to the Post that an average family’s investment would pay off in about seven to eight years’ time, if it were receiving about 80 agorot from the Israel Electric Corporation for each kilowatt installed. If an average-sized family consumes about 9,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and a photovoltaic panel producing one kilowatt per hour generates about 1,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, then the family would need an approximately 5-kilowatt system costing them about NIS 60,000, according to Parness. While this can be a hefty price for some, banks are very willing to give special loans to people for this process, as they are receiving a secure income through an IEC contract, he said.
This summer, the state will have an electricity capacity of about 12,700 megawatts, with an expected consumption of about 12,000 megawatts – leaving only a 700-megawatt reserve, which could be problematic if a power station fails, Parness explained.
Although increasing solar quotas in small amounts will not solve the entire problem, this could help replace the need for an extra polluting source or two, he added.
“We can replace some of the diesel generators,” he said, stressing that even 10 more megawatts of solar panels would help.
“It is not to say that if we don’t save the world, don’t do it.”