05/13/2012 21:58
Cabinet approves Landau’s proposals to combat blackouts, including increased solar quota

In the face of possible electricity blackouts at home this coming summer, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan called on the government Sunday morning to cease supplying power to the Gaza Strip.

Before deliberately cutting supplies to residents of Israel, the government must reconsider its policy of providing electricity to the Hamas “terror authority” in Gaza, the minister said. Asserting that he had no intention of sanctioning Gaza, and certainly not its residents, Erdan explained that terminating the power supply was simply a matter of recognizing the biblical phrase, “The poor of your city come first,” according to a letter he sent the other ministers.

“As a minister of environmental protection, they demanded that I give permission to activate power plants with fuels that are polluting – and will cause more pollution than what can occur under Israeli law, by international standards,” Erdan told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening. “But I have to approve it because [without] electricity people might die.”

Even after adopting a series of measures proposed by Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau to handle the shortage – which the cabinet approved on Sunday afternoon – the government could fall short in providing stable electricity throughout the summer, Erdan said.

This is the case, even after taking rare measures such as reactivating the Reading natural gas power plant in Tel Aviv as a heavy fuel operator, he added.

“After taking all these steps it will still have to cut electricity to places in Israel, to citizens in Israel that are paying their bills,” Erdan said. “It’s illogical and it’s immoral not to start with the people in Gaza. In Gaza we are not obliged to supply electricity.”

Currently, Israel allocates about 4.5 percent of its electricity production to the Palestinian Authority, of which less than half – around 160 megawatts – is intended for Gazan use, according to the minister.

“Those are exactly the 160 megawatts you need [in Israel] when the demands are very high,” Erdan said.

While there is a power plant in Gaza, the facility operates at only 30% capacity.

According to Erdan, the shortfall is due to a PA request asking Israel to stop bringing diesel and fuel oil to the strip, as opposed to Hamas not paying its bills properly to the PA.

In response to Erdan’s suggestion, Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority – headed by Dr. Omar Kittaneh – said it “strongly condemns” Erdan’s proposal and charged that such a decision would deprive 1.7 million Palestinians of a basic humanitarian need.

“We consider these remarks a clear threat targeting the Palestinian people and genocide against our people and their rights,” the authority said in a statement.

“We see these remarks as a continuation of the crime against our people, which began in 2006 with the bombing of the power plant and imposing the blockade.” The authority stressed that Erdan’s remarks would not break the steadfastness of the Palestinian people.

After hearing the Palestinian response, Erdan stressed that Israel is striving to provide help and assistance, “even when they don’t cooperate.”

“I really feel mercy for the people in Gaza, that they don’t understand that the money their regime is getting from around the world – instead of being used for building infrastructure and energy – is being used for weaponry,” he told the Post.

“We are willing to help them with everything,” Erdan said.

“But what can we do when seven years after the disengagement, instead of using the money to develop power plants or desalination, everything is going to be missiles.”

Erdan said he was not worried about how Israel’s global image would be affected by the electricity decision, as “in every decision we take in Israel, someone criticizes Israel of course.”

“It’s not as a punishment – we will supply them whatever we can,” he continued. “It’s not that we don’t want to supply them, it’s that we can’t. We are out of electricity.”

Several ministers agreed offthe- record with Erdan’s suggestion, but said it would best to keep it separate from the summer shortage proposals, a source told the Post.

Dr. Brenda Shaffer, an expert on energy policy and management at the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa, said she felt that “there are a lot of easier things to do than saying just cut off their supply.”

Shaffer added that Israel could allow for the development of the 30 billion cubic meters (BCM) of gas in the Gaza Marine natural gas field.

“We have an interest [in them] producing electricity from natural gas instead of diesel,” she said.

In addition, Israel could reduce the operations of some of its high-power consuming industries such as Haifa Oil Refineries, Shaffer added.

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting, Landau responded that the energy and water ministry will investigate solutions to the shortages, and focusing on that alone.

During Sunday’s cabinet discussion, the government approved Landau’s proposals for handling the expected power shortages that he unveiled last week, with a few amendments from the original draft version.

The official shortage period in the approved version was extended through October 31, thereby eliminating the minister’s initial authority to lengthen the period by an additional three months. The new version of the proposal also called for an assessment of the Reading power plant.

While Landau’s original proposal recommended a 30-megawatt increase in solar rooftop allocations for the summer – which would need to be installed by July 1 – the approved draft extended that deadline to August 1, and brought forward the 2014 solar rooftop quota of 35 megawatts for use now.

Environmentalists who initially criticized Landau’s timetable as short and unrealistic now welcomed the adjusted provision.

“The decision is just one step in the right direction,” said Eitan Parness, CEO of the Renewable Energy Association of Israel. “The government has accepted the demands of the green organizations and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and has recognized the validity of solar power as a means to tackle the expected electricity shortage.”

Parness urged the Public Utility Authority and the Israel Electric Corporation to act swiftly in order to implement the government decision as soon as possible.

“In the coming years, we will see solar power growing and thousands of new solar roof tops and solar power plants will change the way electricity is produced,” Parness said.

“This is a small victory in terms of megawatts, but a big one for all the promoters of green electricity in Israel.”

This summer, the country will have a reserve of only 6.4% – or 776 megawatts – during peak electricity demand hours, according to the authority.

Some stipulations of Landau’s now-approved proposal include the expansion of electricity supply – by means of diesel generators and transportable gas turbines – as well as an ability to activate these generators without limitations.

The proposal also suggests shifting some quantities of gas in cases of emergency from the Essential Service Supplier – the IEC or East Jerusalem Electric Company – to partially or fully paralyzed private power plants.

Stressing that the public must be made aware of the upcoming shortages, the proposal suggests reducing power usage among consumers.

Meanwhile, military bases should join the “mobile summit” framework, which requires that mobile generators not operate more than 100 hours per year.

Both Landau and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the cabinet’s decision to approve the summer plans.

“The government made an important decision today, which will allow the state to better prepare for the expected power drought this summer,” Landau said. “Cooperation between the ministries to implement the decision is crucial, in order to prevent blackouts.”

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this article.