A scenario that might come to pass in the years ahead could prove very embarrassing for the Israel Electric Corporation, especially after the corporation recently flaunted achievements in the prevention of pollution from its facilities and assured the public that the power stations it is building and operating will not be harmful to nature.
According to the scenario, a huge flock of storks arrives in Israel in the fall, as happens every year, when the birds rest on their migration route to Africa, where they will spend the winter months. Confidently and tranquilly the birds arrive in the Jordan Valley, but in the Mount Gilboa area the migration becomes a tragedy. Many of the birds are mangled and torn to pieces by the blades of the turbines the Electric Corporation has built on the mount in order to generate power from wind.
Under the existing plan, two sites of this kind will be established, one around Mount Gilboa, the other at Ramat Sirin, near Lake Kinneret. Each site will cover several square kilometers and have dozens of turbines with blades more than 20 meters long. The National Council for Planning and Building is to consider whether to approve the plan on Tuesday.
The production of electric power from wind energy is supposed to be extremely friendly to the environment. It involves the exploitation of a nonperishable natural resource, and in contrast to regular power stations that use liquid fuel or coal, no pollutants are generated. However, that friendliness is abruptly terminated in the case of an open landscape and wild animals. This is especially true in the case of a small, narrow country like Israel, which is one of the most important bird migration routes in the world.
Two months ago, a number of Israel's leading ornithologists took part in a scientific conference in Hungary. They had known before the conference that wind turbines are liable to be disastrous for birds, but at the meeting they discovered that far more than occasional random harm is involved. According to the findings they compiled at the conference and afterward, there are many sites around the world where turbines of this kind kill large numbers of migrating birds, as well as birds that are permanent inhabitants of the region. Among the birds affected are eagles, whose largest concentration in Israel is not far from Mount Gilboa and Ramat Sirin.
The ornithologists reject the conclusions of a study of the environmental impact of the turbines, conducted by the Electricity Corporation, which found that the wind farms will not be harmful to birds. They maintain that a far more comprehensive survey is needed, in order to arrive at an estimate of how many birds will fly over the turbine sites.
The turbines will also totally change the impressive natural landscape at the sites. The planning department of the Environment Ministry found that the establishment of a large number of turbines across more than 5 kilometers on the Sirin Plateau will significantly damage the high landscape value of the ridge line and its use as a center for hikers and as an observation point.
The supporters of the plan to build the turbines argue that they will be an environmental factor that will heighten the intensity of the landscape. However, in a country where hardly any unbuilt ridges remain, something of the untouched power of nature also has to be left intact.
If the planned turbines were going to supply a significant proportion of Israel's electricity needs, the reduction of air pollution - with the health problems and cases of death that it causes - would have far more weight and would justify the harm to the natural landscape and to birds. However, the two sites will generate less than 1 percent of the country's electricity, so clearly their environmental benefits will be minimal. This does not justify the certain damage that will be done to the two plateaus and the possible harm to the vast bird migration.
The Electric Corporation has stated that it intends to bring about the quick approval of the wind farms. The Environment Ministry has stated that it wants to encourage the use of alternative energy sources in every possible way and that it is against delaying the plan until the survey of the birds is completed.
Both of these bodies have to be made to understand that the project carries too high an environmental price for it to contribute to a green image. In Israel's case, it is preferable to take advantage of the most effective technologies for reducing pollution in regular power generating facilities and to establish exceptional facilities, such as the wind turbines, only in rare cases. The introduction of the use of natural gas, which has a very low pollution level, at power stations is a far more essential mission than covering Mount Gilboa with wind turbines and high-tension wires.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now