An international project management firm has recently signed a memorandum of understanding for construction of a $2.5 billion solar power station at Eilot Region in the Arava desert. The extravagant project, which is expected to continue over a five-year period, involves installation of photo-voltaic (PV) panels which will eventually supply up to 500 megawatts of electricity. The agreement was signed by Arava Power of Kibbutz Ketura located in the southern Arava.
Representatives of the international firm have visited Israel on a number of occasions to promote the project. The project, however, is contingent upon the Electric Company paying a higher price for the solar energy that the power station produces. An electricity producer currently gets 22 cents per kilowatt-hour electricity produced by all types of technology. Sources say that PV production of electricity becomes financially feasible at rates of 37 cents per kW/hr. According to the plan, solar panels are to be installed along thousands of dunams the length of the Arava and on the border with Jordan, and may in the future cross the border. Meanwhile, Arava Power, lead by entrepreneur Joseph Abramovich is promoting a power station that will supply 2.5 megawatts from an 80 dunam area on Kibbutz Ketura designated for industrial use.
The Eilot Regional Council has been lobbying for a move that will allow kibbutzim in the area to sell electricity at NIS 2.04 per kW/hr, the new rates issued by the Electricity Authority for home and industrial consumers who install solar panels for production of electricity.
The arrangement is meant for private consumption, with any surplus being transferred to the electrical grid. Home consumption facilities are limited to 15 kW-hr, and 50 kW-hr for industrial consumers.
Through Abramovich and the supervisor for alternative energy in the Eilot Regional Council Noam Ilan, at least 10 kibbutzim in the area have argued that since electricity usage on kibbutzim is measured on a single meter, they are entitled to bundle the rights of all members, to be considered as a single power station and enjoy the same high rates for sale of electricity to the Electric Company.
As regulation to promote alternative energy sources develops, including solar energy, kibbutzim in the Arava are awash with proposals coming from Israeli and foreign energy companies, including Suntech, First Solar, Sharp and Solar Power, among others.
Interest in collaboration with kibbutzim in the Eilot region has recently increased after the recent establishment of the first research and development center for alternative energy and energy conservation was established on Kibbutz Ketura under the auspices of the Arava Institute, which is planning to raise about $10 million to fund its activities.
Guy Leshem adds: While solar power is gaining momentum, not all "green" objectives win the day. The Trans-Israel Highway is a stellar example of a battle the greens lost. After the works began in 1999, several grass-roots organizations rose to the occasion in towns along its proposed route, claiming the highway would ruin the view, the quality of the water and ground, and would be bad for plant and animal life too. The greens tried their luck in court, and tried to inspire public outrage, to no avail. The ribbon was cut in 2002 and today work is progressing on its northern segments.