Comptroller criticizes National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Ministry for significant failings in implementing a portion of government’s decisions and laws associated with energy saving.

Advancing energy-saving policies has great national importance but those responsible for implementing and enforcing such strategies are lagging in their responsibilities, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote in his latest report.

Reducing dependence on petroleum products, streamlining use of financial and land resources and decreasing air pollution are key elements toward fulfilling the global trend of energy efficiency, according to the report.

The State of Israel has long recognized its need to reduce energy demand and make its consumption more efficient, Shapira wrote, yet several deficiencies are impeding the country’s progress in this sector, he argued.

In particular, Shapira criticized the National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Ministry for significant failings in implementing a portion of the government’s decisions and laws associated with energy saving.

From June through December 2013, the State Comptroller’s Office examined not only the relevant activities of the Energy Ministry, but also of the Public Utilities Authority, the Finance Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Electric Corporation, and others.

One of the main failures identified by the state comptroller was the lack of formulation of a plan to increase energy efficiency as required by law. An amendment to the Energy Resources Law in 2011 called for the government to approve a multi-year energy efficiency plan with the recommendation of the energy minister within three months, Shapira explained.

Although the amendment passed almost three years ago, no such plans have been submitted to the government, he said.

Another deficiency, according to the report, is the absence of adequate law enforcement for relevant regulations and supervision of their implementation. The ministry’s energy conservation department is responsible for enforcing the 20 regulations of the Energy Resources Law, but largely fails to do so, it said. The department, in part, lacks the ability to enforce properly against violations due to a lack of coordination among the Energy, Defense, Interior, and Justice Ministries and the Israel Police, the report acknowledged.

An additional failure evaluated by the state comptroller has been the Energy Ministry’s ability to bring to fruition projects under the umbrella of a 2010 decision to reduce emissions.

Although the ministry received a NIS 269 million budget to do so within the household sector for the years 2011-2012, much of the money “went down the drain due to various deficiencies,” Shapira wrote. The energy conservation department failed to demand updated information about electrical appliances that had been replaced and instead relied on estimates, thereby hurting the reliability of data generated about product energy efficiency, the report added.

In December 2010, the Finance Ministry’s accountant-general, alongside the Inbal Company, launched a tender to select a developer to transform seven government buildings into energy-efficient spaces. The winner would perform the planning, installation, operation, and maintenance of the necessary facilities and, in return, would receive 70% of the financial savings from reduced power consumption.

After selecting a winner for the seven-building pilot, the accountant- general said a tender for an additional 80 buildings would be published in the first half of 2011.

Nonetheless, by the completion of the audit, no such tender had been published, Shapira said.

The report also identified deficiencies in the Public Utility Authority’s progress in reducing overall demand for electricity.

In the summer of 2012, consumers who decreased electricity consumption received 15-30% discounts on their electric bills, but only about 9% of consumers who registered for the discount actually received it, according to the report. Nevertheless, the authority elected to continue the program in 2013.

Moving forward, the state comptroller stressed that the Energy Ministry must act immediately and submit a multi-year plan for energy efficiency for government approval, as well as formulate an enforcement policy.

In addition, the ministry must strengthen its supervision and control over energy-efficiency projects to which it provides funding, collecting real data on energy-saving measures, the report added.

“The Energy Ministry, which is the central body responsible for the energy sector, must advance energy efficiency in cooperation with the relevant ministries in all sectors of the market by all means within its authority, including through information, guidance, regulation, and enforcement,” the comptroller said.

In response to the report, Energy Ministry officials stressed that their office is in fact leading Israel to energy efficiency in various sectors using the resources available.

The ministry is currently in the process of drafting an updated national plan for energy efficiency and soon will submit the plan to government.

Meanwhile, the ministry also is working to update the Energy Resources Law and already has begun to act in accordance with new enforcement measures that have been formulated, a statement from the office said.

With regards to the failure to formulate a national energy-efficiency program, the statement said the ministry published a “National Energy Efficiency Program” in 2010 through which multi-year energy efficiency measures already have been implemented. Upon completion of an updated program, however, the ministry will submit the plans to the government for approval.

Concerning the lack of enforcement of energy-efficiency polices, the Energy Ministry cited details mentioned by the state comptroller, stressing that the ability to carry out criminal investigations does not fall within its authority.

A new enforcement procedure completed in June, however, will allow for the ministry to oversee some enforcement of regulations, the ministry statement said.

The Energy Ministry stressed that its enforcement unit has carried out intensive supervision and control of companies that won various tenders, and that any irregularities discovered have been treated harshly.

“The ministry will work to receive full data from relevant government bodies and formulate the required efficiency targets,” the ministry statement said.