Rolling blackouts possible starting later this year

As many as 30 hours without electricity likely in 2009, and up to 50 hours in 2010.

gaza blackout 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza blackout 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The country could begin to experience power outages starting this year for the next several years because of severe construction delays over the last decade, the State Comptroller's Office warns in a report released on Wednesday afternoon. The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) was supposed to install many turbines over the past decade, some of which have been pushed off to 2010 or 2012. As a result, the country's reserve generating capacity is dangerously low and a combination of high demand and other malfunctions could cause rolling blackouts as the company fails to meet demand. There could be as many as 30 hours without electricity in various parts of the country this year and 50 hours next year, the comptroller warned. The cost to the economy could be as high as $800 million for 30 hours without electricity. The National Infrastructures Ministry and the IEC have come up with an emergency plan to produce as many megawatts as possible and to streamline installation processes, which they hope will stave off any outages. That plan was only concocted after there were outages in June 2006, the comptroller noted, despite the fact that all those responsible knew long ahead of time that reserves were dangerously low. Several national infrastructure ministers failed to set a specific percentage for reserves, leading to dangerous dips in capacity, according to the report. A 20 percent reserve is considered suitable in a natural gas electricity market and the government has set a goal of 17%. However, actual reserve levels will likely continue to be in the low single digits through 2011 according to calculations presented in the report. The Comptroller's Office also found that $2.4 billion had been wasted by running gas turbines on diesel oil or fuel oil, or running diesel generators instead of gas turbines. That extra cost will be passed on to the consumer as electricity prices rise this year. The state also failed to begin acting to conserve energy and implement renewable energy projects from 2002 to 2007. A cabinet decision from 2002 mandated that 2% of Israel's energy needs were to be met from renewable energy by 2007. At present, just 0.02% come from renewables, according to the report. The National Infrastructures Ministry, the Israel Lands Administration and the Electricity Authority all failed to encourage renewable energy until 2008. Rather than fast-track requests for licenses and land, private suppliers interested in producing electricity from wind or the sun had to go through the regular planning processes. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Comptroller's Report, teams found that there was a lack of engineering tools and plans for building around the Dead Sea. The phenomenon of suddenly opening sinkholes has increased drastically over the past two decades as a result of the sea's receding waters. However, a team of engineers designed to assess how to build in the area was never funded to prepare a final report on the issue, so authorities have a difficult time granting building permits. In addition, there is no regional plan for the Dead Sea. Instead, there are outdated local plans from local councils in the area. Responsibility over the Dead Sea has been given to the Tourism Ministry, and the report's authors urged the ministry to act to stop the rapidly dropping sea level and enable development of the region. The comptroller also called for better oversight of bus companies, both Egged and private lines, after finding many problems. For instance, Egged ran several thousand fewer buses per year than its license required. Private companies also had great difficulty keeping to their schedules. Finally, regulations governing radiation from cellphones, wireless phone handsets and radios have been held up for years and must be implemented to protect the public, the Comptroller's Office demanded.