The IDB Group's plan to build a pumped-storage power plant adjacent to Nesher, just southeast of Haifa, was canceled last week following an intense public and political campaign against the project.
Opposition to the $230 million project was led by Nesher Mayor David Amar, a major player in Likud party politics. The project, according to Amar, would have interfered with the city's plans to create a recreational park next to the Kishon River.
The IDB Group finally relented after Amar enlisted the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ) and the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabbai.
The project was one of two pumped-storage power plants that the government had declared infrastructure projects of national importance just last year, thereby fast-tracking their licensing under the Planning and Building Law. The declaration was signed by Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said at the time that hastening construction of the pumped-storage plants would raise the capacity of the national power supply system and enable it to boost supply at times of excess demand.
The 220-megawatt power plant was to have been a flagship project of the IDB Group's Clal Industries and Investments, through its subsidiary Clal Energy. The latter company was formed just several years ago, largely around this project.
The power plant's facilities were to have extended from the quarries of IDB Group's Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises on Mount Carmel to a reservoir that was planned on company land next to the Kishon River.
Electricity generation using pumped-storage technology utilizes the difference in altitudes of water reservoirs, and also the price differential between peak and off-peak supply: Water from the lower reservoir is pumped to the higher reservoir during the cheaper, off-peak nighttime hours and then produces power on its way back down during the peak usage hours of the day.
But even as Clal was working on preliminary planning for the power plant, the city of Nesher was busy planning a large-scale tourism project right next to the proposed plant, along the banks of the Kishon. The city's project is to include a sports and recreational center, a cable car, a promenade and a lake for water sports.
The land allocated to the tourism project no longer serves the quarry, and the city has already invested NIS 150 million in the undertaking, out of a planned total of NIS 250 million. Nesher is known for rapidly building cultural, educational and leisure facilities for residents and visitors.
As part of the city's struggle, Amar turned to Netanyahu, Gabbai and the heads of the Interior Ministry's Planning Administration and asked them to intervene in the matter. He also approached Nochi Dankner, owner of the IDB Group, explaining that the municipality adamantly opposes the power plant, which would seriously undermine its objective of promoting tourism to the area, and warning that "the city will use all legal means at its disposal to stop this damage."
Dankner, according to Nesher city officials, wrote back that he would do what is right for the city. Then, at a meeting in Nesher city hall last month, Zvika Livnat, deputy chairman of IDB Development, told Amar that his group is backing down from the project. Amar quickly confirmed this with Gabbai.
City officials were eager to declare victory after the two-year battle, saying cancelation of the power plant has invigorated Nesher's tourism development plans.
"The city will continue to develop and promote the Kishon metropolitan park, the resort area on the ruins of the Carmel Park (Hraibe ) quarry, and restoration of the cable car used in the past by the Nesher Cement Plant," Amar said. "When these are completed, we will be able to say that the tourism vision for Nesher has been realized, and that Nesher's goal of becoming financially independent has drawn much closer."
Amar, of course, didn't forget the contribution made by national leaders: "We owe our gratitude to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his office's director general, Eyal Gabbai, as well as to the IDB Group, which was capable of making the decision to refrain from harming Nesher and its residents."
A Clal Industries spokesman said, "Following the request from Nesher's mayor, the management of Clal Industries decided to back down from the project."
Gabbai's office commented, "During a routine working session, the mayor of Nesher raised various issues, including the matter of the power plant. The mayor was referred to the relevant officials at the planning authorities."
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