By Zafrir Rinat

Renewable energy has found itself an unexpected enemy: one of Israel’s largest environmental groups.

Though wind turbines may be helping the environment by providing a clean energy source, they also endanger birds and bats, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said in a report released yesterday on 110 threats to nature and open areas.

If plans go through to build the turbines in the Golan, northern Negev and Eilat mountains, they will place the open areas there at risk and dramatically change the landscape, SPNI said in its fifth annual report.

The environmental group also had more traditional targets, including real estate development, roads and government initiatives that make it harder to protect open areas.

“The government has come out with initiatives intended to weaken the planning system and endanger the protection of open spaces,” said SPNI deputy director general Nir Papai.

He said committees aimed at fast-tracking housing could approve large construction projects in land reserves such as the hills west of Jerusalem, even though many open areas have already been allocated for development.

“It will be very difficult for us to deal with those committees’ plans,” said Itamar Ben David, a planner at SPNI’s preservation division.

One of the risks to nature and open spaces comes from establishing illegal communities in the heart of the open areas, the report says, citing Shibolet in the Lower Galilee and Sheizaf in the Negev.

The ground has been prepared for construction at both sites and unauthorized structures have been built. Though prospective residents have not received the required permits, they are building with the encouragement of local authorities, the report says.

But the executive director of a group that encourages settlement in the Negev and Galilee said Sheizaf was established legally.

“We have permits from all the planning authorities,” said Matan Dahan, who heads the Ayalim Foundation. “It’s an area intended for public structures, not one that is supposed to remain open. We are no less green than the SPNI.”

Other threats cited in the report include transportation infrastructure, like a new road to the Galilee town of Pelech that will cut across a nature reserve and a large Israel Railways facility to be built in the center of the country. The facility will go near Moshav Hagor and will cut into some parts of Hayarkon Park.

In addition, a road that would extend the Ayalon Highway toward Netanya will cause grave damage to open areas in the Poleg Stream area, the report says. SPNI officials say there is no justification for this road, since the railway line passes near it and the coastal road is about to be widened.

The environmental group is also troubled by Rishon Letzion’s plans to rezone a military area for construction.