Israel Unveils First Commercial Solar Power Plant

Arava Power's 4.95 megawatt solar power plant at Kibbutz Keturah is the first of about 50 photovoltaic power fields to be built throughout the southern Negev desert by the end of 2014.

Israel's Arava Power unveiled the country's first commercial solar power plant on Sunday, showing it off to government ministers and dignitaries, and announced plans to erect dozens of other solar array fields, whose total cost could reach $2 billion. The announcement was appropriately made on UN World Environment Day.

The NIS 100 million ($30 million), 4.95 megawatt plant in the agricultural community of Kibbutz Keturah, currently the largest of its kind in Israel, is due to be hooked up to the national grid in the next few weeks. It is the first of about 50 photovoltaic power fields that Arava said it will build throughout the southern Negev desert by the end of 2014.

solar power, kibbutz ketura
David Sheen

Approximately 50km north of Eilat, Kibbutz Ketura is situated in the southern part of the Arava region, which is among the sunniest areas of the world. It gets at least 350 days of direct sunlight each year, making it a perfect location for a solar panel field.

The government has said that by 2020 it wants the country to provide 10% of its energy with solar and other renewable energy sources.

The Arava region in general, and more specifically Kibbutz Ketura, is at the forefront of efforts to advance ecological and sustainable progress in Israel. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies prides itself as the "premier environmental education and research program in the Middle East," with a student body of Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, and students from around the world, who live and study together.

Being the first field of its size, Arava Power had to cut through much diplomatic red tape in order to push the expansion project through to actuality, including two dozen government bodies. This may make it easier for other companies to take up similar initiatives.

"This isn't about Ketura Power. This is about the energy independence of the state of Israel" said Yosef Abramowitz, co-founder and president of Arava Power.

State-owned Israel Electric Corp will pay NIS 1.52 (45 cents) per kilowatt-hour from the Keturah plant over 20 years, but that price could drop to as low as NIS 1.08 when the larger plants are in place, Arava said.

The company said it has signed agreements with communities and even with Bedouin families in the Negev to build on their land, but it still needs the government to increase its official quota on solar fields.

The Infrastructure Ministry, which is ultimately responsible for the matter, has decided to allow hundreds of additional megawatts of electricity to come from solar fields. But the Finance Ministry has been holding up the move.

A number of Knesset Members attended Sunday's launch, including National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and Agriculture Minister Orit Noked.

Also present was MK Einat Wilf (Atzmaut), who said, "There are those that believe that finding natural gas means that we should not be supporting solar power. We completely disagree with that."