The shekel drops / Curb your creativity, Bibi
Electricity prices are high, due to the absence of Egyptian gas. Why will they continue to climb?
One of the more worrying bombshells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dropped in his holiday-eve interviews was, "There are creative solutions for the price of electricity too."
Netanyahu, we beg you, anything but "creative." The government's creative solutions always end the same way, in a bigger deficit.
Just look at the creativity involved in lowering gasoline prices for the people: Netanyahu simply lowered excise tax on fuel, to the horror of the Finance Ministry, which means the increase in gasoline was less than it would have been - and tax revenues this year will be too.
Instead of "creativity," we should grab the bull by the horns and tell the public the truth: The reason the price of electricity is soaring is mainly because the natural gas supply from Egypt has halted. But the reason prices will continue to climb in the years to come is a sin of omission by Netanyahu himself and his energy minister, Uzi Landau.
The omission in question is a huge one. It touches on the plans to build terminals on Israel's shores to receive natural gas extracted from the Mediterranean seabed. The omission is about to cost Israelis NIS 10 billion, which we will pay through inflated electricity and other bills in the decade to come, not to mention in air pollution.
The issue has been under discussion by committee for three years. This committee, headed by Water and Energy Resources Ministry director-general Shaul Zemach, responsible for discussing "the gas economy", only delivered its recommendations - interim ones at that - to Netanyahu last week.
The committee recommends that Israel build four gas reception terminals, two in the north and two in the south. Right now Israel has exactly one in operation.
But the true story of the great omission begins earlier.
The greens and Ehud Barak
Making decisions of this nature, like building gas reception terminals on the beach, drag out for years. After endless battles, a decision was made two years ago to erect a station in the north, but local residents and green organizations objected.
Landau, wanting them to like him, ordered his ministry officials to remove the topic of building the station in the north from the agenda. Instead of building it by the Carmel shore towns, Landau suggested, let it go up inland. His proposal would have made the process much costlier, and led to delays that still aren't over. Not a brick has been set in place yet.
Last February, again under pressure from greens, a new decision was made - to build the terminal on a raft at sea, and not on land at all. The greens think Israel's energy economy should be based entirely on environmental considerations, not economic ones, but if the price of electricity continues to increase, the same people will howl to government, this time in the guise of "social justice activists."
Yes, the greens matter and yes, they do important work but they can be wrong, too. A floating station is expensive, unreliable and even dangerous. Nowhere in the world is gas handled like that.
A week ago, the National Planning and Building Council rejected Delek Group's plan to build a facility accepting gas from the Tamar and Leviathan fields on ground the company had bought a few months ago near Acre. The Defense Ministry said the facility would be too close to a Rafael armaments development facility.
Delek had invested NIS 43 million in the site, which would have been appropriate from every perspective, something that failed to move hearts at the Defense Ministry. The ministry dances to its own tune. Thus Ehud Barak must shoulder the blame for delaying the arrival of gas to Israel, not that that will stop him from calling on the government to lower the price of electricity for poor suffering Israelis.
The bottom line is that our situation is insane and dangerous.
The nation's entire gas supply arrives via a single pipeline transporting gas from the Tethys Sea offshore gas reserve to Ashdod. But Netanyahu seems to think he has all the time in the world.