Daniel Farb - Asher Fein - February 2012
Daniel Farb. Photo by Asher Fein
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One week after Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau predicted a summer fraught with power outages, two Anglos who are spearheading alternative energy initiatives in Israel are saying, "I told you so."

"There would be no likely power failures the next three summers if the state would have lifted the barriers and caps preventing 2,000 megawatts of solar fields from becoming operational," says Yosef I. Abramowitz, president of the Negev-based Arava Power Company, who is awaiting government approval for nearly 500 megawatts of solar fields.

"This would add valuable peak power to the national grid," adds Abramowitz, who hails from Boston, Massachusetts. His six-year-old company's license application to establish Israel's largest solar field in Ketura, a kibbutz near Eilat, is being reviewed by Israel's Public Utility Authority. The field's production capacity of 40 megawatts could supply one-third of Eilat's energy needs during the day, Abramowitz maintains.

"I've been trying to talk to people for five years," says New York native Daniel Farb, CEO of the four-year-old Negev-based Leviathan Energy, a renewable energy technology company. "But most of the responses from government officials are, 'That's a great idea, but I can't do anything about it.'"

Meanwhile, Landau is warning of power outages across the country as electricity production reserves plummet. "The country's electricity production reserves will fall [this summer] to only 2-3 percent," Landau said last week at a press conference launching a ministry campaign to conserve electricity. "There is a great danger that the electricity grid will fail if there is any type of breakdown at the power station, especially during peak usage hours."

Landau blamed "irresponsible decisions taken by entities outside of the Israeli energy industry for years."

Farb, a former ophthalmologist, designed a small wind turbine that was connected to Israel's power grid in the Negev in the summer of 2010. He says the hydroelectric turbine his company designed for closed water systems is already being utilized by Mekorot, the national water utility. "If this process were to accelerate, then we could produce many megawatts of renewable energy to the Israeli grid within a year or so," he predicts. But Farb says numerous hurdles posed by Israel's bureaucracy have the country lagging behind other countries and are preventing progress in developing renewable energy sources.

"It involves many different agencies and many different bureaucracies," says Farb, who sees no short-term solution to this summer's looming troubles, other than more expensive, short-terms solutions like diesel fuel.

"There has to be an initiative coming from the prime minister-on-down that puts many disciplines and agencies together to make real progress," he says. "If we don't plan ahead and make projects and technology easy to execute and well-funded, then it's hard to do things at the last minute."