More than 100 scientists protest Energy Ministry: Drop gas, go solar

The letter came in response to declarations by the energy minister earlier this month that Israel will move into a coal-free era of power production by the end of 2025.

THE LEVIATHAN jacket. (photo credit: ALBATROSS)
(photo credit: ALBATROSS)
More than 100 scientists sent a letter on Tuesday to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz urging Israel to revise its energy policy to favor solar energy and stop expanding the country’s dependence on liquefied natural gas.
The letter came in response to declarations Steinitz made earlier this month that Israel will move into a coal-free era of power production by the end of 2025, five years earlier than originally targeted. However, he said that the country would opt for a combination of natural gas and renewable energy use.
But the scientists and academics are opposed to natural gas use altogether.
“Natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal and we welcome the reduction in the utilization of coal, oil and diesel,” the letter reads. “Nonetheless, it would be good if the transition was made directly to renewable energy and not gas.”
The letter explained that gas is a fossil fuel that releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere when burned, and that those emissions are both harmful to the environment and potentially carcinogenic.
Furthermore, the scientists argued that establishing gas-powered plants today “poses a serious economic risk.
“Recent research indicates that during the coming five to 15 years, operating a gas power plant will be much more expensive than establishing comparable solar systems with storage,” the letter continues. “The results will be premature discontinuation of these power plants, while the state continues to pay developers, according to contractual obligations, for many additional years.
“We fear that the government has not undertaken an in-depth analysis of all the policies, but has selected a solution that appears convenient in the short term, but will cause economic and environmental damages to Israel in the medium- and long-term,” the letter concluded.
Signatories included Nobel Prize winners Yisrael Aumann and Dan Shechtman, and Israel Prize winners Dan Yakir and Gideon Dagan, as well as other scientists, academics and environmental experts.
The letter was filed by Prof. Alon Tal of Tel Aviv University. He told The Jerusalem Post that if the government moves toward natural gas as opposed to solar power, “we will have to charge people way more than we would otherwise need to, and we will be missing a big opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.”
Tal said that in 2018, two-thirds of new electricity production in the world was from renewable sources, and that the price of solar energy storage has dropped significantly and is expected to drop even more.
“With the revolution in solar energy storage, we are going to lock our generation into an energy infrastructure that is 20th century rather than 21st century,” he said.
According to Tal, the scientists hope that their letter will lead to an open discussion about existing energy paradigms.
The Energy Ministry responded that it is already committed to providing stable, affordable energy.
“In just five years, air pollution from electricity generation in Israel will be reduced by 50%, and CO² emissions will soon be reduced to 20% – an unprecedented figure,” a spokeswoman for the ministry told the Post. “All the while maintaining energy security, and without any increase in electricity prices.”
She said that the ministry is determined to raise the target for renewable energy to between 50% and 80% of electricity generation.
“Natural gas plays a major role in establishing the energy sector in Israel and, first and foremost, in achieving environmental goals – in Israel and in many other countries around the world,” the spokeswoman continued. “Waiting for the economy to transition to 100% renewable energy – without replacing coal, polluting power plants and using pollutant fuels – is not feasible and would be a clear danger to all of us.”
“This is not the way we operate,” she continued, “and we do not intend to stay there and wait for better solutions that may come.”