09/16/2011 17:21

National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau talks with the ‘Post’ about cooperation with the PA on water and sewage management.
Talkbacks (5)

As Israel enters a new year, with significant renewable energy allocations signed in July and natural gas development churning at highspeed, The Jerusalem Post sat down on Wednesday with National Infrastructures Minister Dr. Uzi Landau, who is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D. grad with interests in maximizing and diversifying the country’s water and energy usage. Meanwhile, with the approach of the Palestinian bid in the United Nations for statehood, Landau spoke in detail about some of the most pressing infrastructural issues facing the areas of Judea and Samaria.

Before we get into questions, any new developments in your office that we wouldn’t already know about?

[On Tuesday] we visited the area of Binyamin and of Samaria, meeting with representatives of the communities that live there – starting with Ma’aleh Adumim, its mayor and his staff. Basically, together with the staff of Mekorot [the National Water Company] and of Israel’s water authority we simply went to observe first-hand what the problems are.

What are the biggest problems?

The biggest problem is that while the population there has been increasing steadily over the past few years, , the water infrastructure has basically been basically frozen.

How might you best take care of these problems?

What we had were plans developed 16 years ago, in 1995, with a number of pipelines connecting the coastal plains of Israel with the communities of Judea and Samaria, but the population has more than tripled since then. Many industries were developed – there are industrial areas that weren’t there before and many sewage problems have developed since then. The agricultural sector that developed dramatically… They should have the same rights as every other citizen of Israel. We have now developed a master plan that will have a horizon of 20 years and beyond.

A master plan that will include the Palestinians?

Including everyone… Their management of water is of utmost importance. Because if you mismanage the water… you might damage the water aquifers with consequences for many, many years to come… The Palestinians are also causing problems with a pirate type of drilling and overuse of water… [On Tuesday] three major illegal drillings that they developed were shut off.

Has there been any improvement?

We are still not fully satisfied, but the enforcement by the police and the Civil Administration is getting much better… The second major problem with the Palestinians is that they simply do not treat their water – they don’t clean their water. They expect us to provide them with fresh water.

What’s the status of their existing treatment plants?

They have built two treatment plants.

One is in Al-Bir and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s another one that they built in Hebron, which simply doesn’t function and has an excess amount of dust in the water from the quarries. We have in a number of cases built our own water purifying installations to take care of the Palestinians’ polluted water. One is in Shoket, which is supposed to take care of Hebron’s untreated water and the other is in Yad Chana, which takes care of the sewage coming out of the city of Nablus.

Through the riverbeds they are polluting the landscape and infiltrating the underground water aquifer, which is a major source of drinking water for the Palestinians and for the Israeli population in the area…. We have approached them and made clear to them in the past couple of years that no new major projects will be approved there unless they start to show us how they treat the sewage.

We are unprepared to provide them with fresh water and get sewage in return.

Might a treatment plant be build in the new city of Rawabi?

I’m not aware of that and we shall not join in, in terms of providing all the water needed, if they will not take care of their sewage.

This is a major problem. They claim that this land is theirs, that this is their homeland, but… they don’t treat the sewage.

As it stands now, would the Palestinians be capable of sustaining an independent state, energy- and water-wise?

I wish that we would see there not a failed authority, but rather people who can run their businesses properly. It is in our interests, for example, that in the Gaza region that they would develop their own electricity plants, their own water desalination plant, their own purification plant… Until now their entire behavior is that of leaning on somebody else. They don’t act or behave as an independent, responsible, skillful, professional authority.

What might be included in your ministry’s master plan?

With respect to the Palestinians, we know the amounts of water allocated to them. We’ll of course have to guarantee that, but we will also have to look into how our communities are developing over there. Our master plan will also have to take care of all of the needs, all the infrastructure that will need to be developed just in case the Jordanians would be interested in selling them water, or the Palestinians would be interested in us selling them more water if they don’t find their own ways to deal with it.

Switching gears – as Better Place prepares to launch its electric car network, are you at all worried that the electricity will be coming from the grid, rather than from renewable sources?

First of all, it’ll be much cleaner than the direct use of gasoline or than the combustion engines of the cars. There’s no doubt about that. The second thing is – your comment is correct from the point of view that you need energy in order to produce electricity. Some energy sources are much cleaner [than others]. We are in Israel disconnecting ourselves almost totally from heavy crude oil, and this is to a greater and greater extent filtered – there are methods being used to absorb the pollutants. Third, we are in the process of reshaping and reconfiguring some of our old coal power plants to become dual-use, to natural gas backed by coal. And of course much more of our electricity will be produced by natural gas. Already 40 percent of it is is being produced by natural gas… In the long run, not in the immediate run, the recharging of the cars will also be done under a controlled manner in order to maximize the efficient use energy.

When will the Tamar natural gas field be online?

If everything goes as planned, then by the first half of 2013 Tamar will already be connected to the natural gas network. What we have is a gap between the dwindling of Yam Tethys and starting the operation of Tamar.

[I understand] a liquified natural gas (LNG) buoy was just approved to help bridge that gap?

This was approved to take place in Hadera.

They still have to finish the detailed plans, but this was a milestone not only in terms of the importance of the decision, but that it was done in quite a speedy manner… We should still be able to have the buoy by last quarter of 2012 if everything goes fine.

Will we continue to use LNG after Tamar is online?

We’ll need that as the backup – and it cannot be the only backup. We need to draw up a system that has much more redundancy.

Might we export natural gas?

If it were to be exported, most probably it would be in LNG form… Potentially the Palestinians could buy it, the Jordanians could buy it if they so choose and so could some European countries such as those in the Balkans or Cyprus. The natural gas market is developing at quite a dramatic speed and as muchas we are tied to ships and pipelines today, perhaps in the future we might be able to also do a “spot” type of a market – when it’s purchased from a ship on the high seas.

Is there any danger of further Lebanese threats to Israeli natural gas, or any fear of future threats from Turkey (as Turkey has been on Cyprus’s back)?

No one is claiming – not even the Lebanese – that the Leviathan or the Tamar natural gas fields are within foreign waters.

Until now the Turks said something about the natural gas in Cyprus. It is difficult for me to see anything developing between us and Cypus or Greece, for example, Turkey challenging the European Union. At least the Cypriot ambassador didn’t pay attention to that at all. He brushed it off.

Is natural gas from Egypt now considered unreliable?

We saw the natural gas supply agreement with Egypt as the most important economic agreement we have with them. We wish, of course, to be able to see Egypt as be a source we could rely upon, but at the same time we are also preparing ourselves for scenarios in which we will have to provide for our needs without foreign pipelines… Of course our purpose is to make Israel energetically independent, but there is still a long way to go.

This means diversifying our resources rather than having one source of energy, .

How might we do that?

It’s gas, it’s other things… Perhaps in the [20]20s we may also have a nuclear power plant here.

But what about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Well, there are countries that haven’t signed yet, such as India. We think we are no different… We are an energy island in Israel.

Earthquake or natural disaster?

The problem in Japan was not the earthquake – it was the tsunami, which simply shows you that precautions and all necessary engineering steps can be taken to avoid that or to provide an answer to it. A tsunami can also take place here, but we don’t have to put it just on the seashore. We can provide answers to these things, and obviously it will be a major challenge for all those who design it. If you look at France, for example, they have tens of tens of tens of nuclear power plants, which provide them credible and economic sources of energy, and there have been no major problems in the operation of the system for many, many decades.

Are there any plans for hybrid electricgas buses?

At the moment I see greater a chance of buses operating with compressed natural gas (CNG); this, too, has to be tested. I’ve mentioned many industries that might be developed from natural gas and this could be one of them.

As far as the renewable energy allocations passed in July, have people been jumping to get permits?

There is already a long list, I was told, of companies who have filed requests for solar and also wind power… Some of it is outside of the responsibility of this ministry, which shows you how much this area of electricity is divided… This makes it impossible torun it in a very effective manner, in such a highly important sector that needs to provide a secure, reliable, economic, sustainable source of energy to the people. Yet at the same time, when it comes to the government decision, this was a major victory, a major achievement by our ministry… But again, the major problem is that you have too many players here, which confuses the customer and also makes the ability of this sector to function an increasing problem.

What about the people of Judea and Samaria, who are supposed to receive 10% of the allocations?

These people were deprived of their human rights for a number of years in this regard and in regard to water, and I’m really glad that we have equalized their position now to what the other citizens of Israel enjoy.