By SHARON UDASIN 02/08/2012 02:38
Contract to develop solar field was first signed a year-and-a-half ago, will be funded by US gov’t agency.
Beduin leaders and Arava Power Company president By Hannah Schafer

The Public Utility Authority on Monday night issued the first license for a solar power facility on Beduin land, approving the Tarabin family’s application to build an 8-megawatt photovoltaic field on their property in the Abu Basma region in the northwestern Negev.

The $30 million field will encompass 15 hectares (37 acres) and will be developed by Arava Power Company, the firm responsible for opening the country’s first medium-sized solar field in Kibbutz Ketura in June. Arava Power signed a contract with the Tarabin family a year-and-a-half ago, and 80 percent of the money for the project is slated to come from OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation), an independent United States government agency.

“I would like to thank all those who labored to advance this outstanding achievement to build a solar field on the Tarabin family’s land,” community leader Haj Musa Tarabin said. He thanked Arava president, Yosef Abramowitz, for his social justice vision. “It is a dream come true for the Beduin population as solar energy will provide fixed sources of income and economic benefit to the Beduin in the Negev. I hope that there will be many more solar projects to come for our community,” he said.

The road to acquiring the approval was not easy. The Public Utility Authority delayed making the decision twice in January, something that Abramowitz had feared would put the Tarabin family at a disadvantage, as more and more of the 300-megawatt cap for medium-sized fields was being claimed in the meanwhile.

When the most recent postponement occurred two weeks ago, Abramowitz said that the delays made Israel appear “in a negative light with the American administration.”

Now that the Tarabin family field has been approved, Abramowitz recommended that the government allocate a quota for Beduin solar fields, so they do not get closed out of the competition to acquire permits.

“If Israel’s government doesn’t allocate a significant quota for Beduin solar fields, it will be difficult for these citizens of Israel to genuinely participate in the domestic solar industry, as they are in a disadvantaged position compared with other landowners,” Abramowitz said, adding that economic and social justice must reach the Beduin community. “Solar power for Beduin in Israel can be a positive example for all indigenous peoples around the world, from Native Americans to First Nations, Aboriginals and others with historic land claims.”

In total, Arava Power has signed five contracts with Beduin families to build solar project, encompassing 540 dunams (133 acres) and about 31 megawatts, according to the company.

“A thriving and developed solar industry among the Beduin communities will grant an economic and social solution for one of Israel’s disadvantaged populations,” said Jon Cohen, Arava Power CEO.

“I hope the government of Israel will view this as a long-term investment that will advance the Beduin population in the Negev. I am proud that Arava Power is pioneering entrepreneurship that integrates social justice into an economical and green business project.”