The Eilot region, at the southeastern edge of Israel, is likely to become the first part of the country, along with the city of Eilat, that is not dependent on polluting energy resources. Instead of oil- or coal-fired power plants, the region's electricity will be produced from clean, renewable sources - first and foremost, the sun.

"The sun's rays here are among the strongest in the world and there is no shortage of land on which to build installations that can exploit solar energy," says Eilot Regional Council chair Udi Gat. "There is already research infrastructure from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Kibbutz Ketura and Ben Gurion University, and this [infrastructure] can be expanded."

Gat will be attending the two-day Business and Environment conference at Kfar Maccabiah (Monday and Tuesday), and will present his plans to make the Eilot region energy self-sufficient.

The Eilot Regional Council and Eilat Municipality recently began establishing a "sustainable energy administration." The administration will focus on assisting developers and companies to use the broad expanses of the southern Arava for the research and development of solar and wind energy technologies. Some of the resulting electricity could also be sold to the Israel Electric Corporation.

"We will still need backup from the national grid for emergencies or at night, but we will be able to supply most of the energy ourselves," says Gat.

Every community in the region will be able to produce its own energy by setting up solar panels on the ground at the edge of agricultural land.

"This is an idea that is already common in many places around the world, mainly outlying regions where energy is expensive," notes Gat.

"We have already prepared a land usage tax order allowing the installation of solar panels at a low taxation rate, identical to that usually paid by farmers."

At present, southern Arava residents get their electricity from a long high tension line from the coal-fired Ashkelon power plant, which pollutes the environment. The Eilot Regional Council will allocate a large section of land for sustainable energy production at the industrial park it is building beside the Timna mines.

Last year the Eilot region hosted a conference on alternative energy and an expert in this field works for the Eilat municipality.

The regional council plans to allocate a building in its jurisdiction for the establishment of a technology incubator for energy research, in conjunction with MRI, an American company. MRI will also promote an experimental apparatus developed by Adig, an Israeli company. The apparatus is made of mirrors that absorb sunlight and help power turbines produce electricity. Another plan being promoted in Eilot is an educational program for schools and pre-schools, with a focus on clean energy.

Gat hopes to receive government funding to achieve the goal set by the regional council. After all, the government decided that in 2007, Israel would obtain at least 2 percent of its energy from sustainable resources, but did not manage to reach even that low target. Gat admits that the environmental goal of consuming clean energy is also a means to a bigger goal - strengthening the regions' communities economically and demographically.

"We need to vary our sources of income, which are currently based on dairy farms, date orchards and fish farms in the Gulf of Eilat, which will be closed down by government order next summer," says Gat. "I believe that we can attract people who work in the research and development of sustainable energy sources, and they will come to live here."