Bedouin houses in the Negev.
Bedouin houses in the Negev. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkowitz
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Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular in Bedouin communities in the Negev, but these towns and villages are also putting up panels to generate a modest income.

Two weeks ago, a group of Bedouin residents and community leaders visited the Arava Power Company’s solar plant at Kibbutz Ketura. The idea was to improve cooperation with the firm in setting up similar installations in Bedouin communities, or on land whose legal status is uncontested. Each installation would require 100 to 250 dunams ‏(25 to 70 acres‏).

In Ketura itself, a solar farm is being set up on 80 dunams of land, aimed at producing 4.9 megawatts of electricity.

One of the visitors to Ketura was Musa Abu Karinat, a resident of the village of Abu Karinat near Dimona, which has been recognized by the state. Musa Abu Karinat and four other Bedouin have signed an agreement with Arava Power to rent out village land to build more solar plants.

“Our village has proper electricity infrastructure, so we don’t need the plant for electricity for the village. Our goal is to build a solar farm on private land owned by a particular family, and to sell the energy it will produce to the national energy grid,” Abu Karinat told Haaretz.

“We’ll make money from renting out the land and we’ll benefit from the new jobs the farm will generate. The land was originally meant for agriculture, but agriculture has become very unprofitable in recent years.”

Abu Karinat’s chief concerns, shared by everyone in the solar-energy market, are the delays in getting the necessary permits for the project. This is partly because of the time it takes the state to register Bedouin-owned land.

“Today, getting the permits takes three years, but they’re saying they’re trying to shorten the process, and I hope they succeed,” Abu Karinat said.

Larger towns, like the Bedouin city of Rahat, are also interested in solar energy’s economic potential. One of the visitors to Arava Power was Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban, who wants to have photovoltaic panels installed on the city’s rooftops.

“It’s time Bedouin had their share in the quota provided by the state for electricity generated from solar energy. Rahat has open land that can be used for that, and there are the roofs of public buildings,” he said.

“In fact, we have more than 50 buildings that can be used for this purpose, and we think that it can generate an annual income of NIS 1.5 million for the city. That’s a large sum, considering that we have hardly any industrial and commercial areas to derive extra municipal taxes from.”

According to Jon Cohen, CEO of Arava Power, “We started cooperating with the Bedouin based on the vision of the company’s founders that equal opportunity must be created for all the Negev’s residents. Obviously, there’s also the practical consideration of Bedouin-owned land being conveniently close to the national power grid.”

Cohen believes that 100 megawatts of electricity can be generated from agreements with Bedouin families whose ownership of land has been acknowledged by the state. If there’s progress in the dispute between the state and the Bedouin over land ownership in the Negev, thousands of megawatts can be produced.

Sources in Bedouin communities and the government say the solar-energy projects can be used to accelerate the resolution of land disputes. After all, the Bedouin are interested in the land and the state seeks to meet a government-set goal to produce more electricity from renewable energy sources.