Despite Fears of Harming Birds, Plan for Israeli Wind Farm Moves Forward

Critics say the wind turbines would endanger local birds of prey, including eagles that are already at risk of extinction

Yaron Kaminsky

A government committee has given the go-ahead to build a wind farm on the Golan Heights over the objections of environmentalists who warn that the turbines will pose a serious threat to the region’s birds of prey, particularly eagles that are at risk of extinction.

The plan, the initiative of an Israeli company, Enlight Renewable Energy, is currently at the stage of receiving input from the public. It was opposed both by environment experts on the National Infrastructure Committee, which approved the decision, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

The project calls for 41 wind turbines to be built in the Tel Fares area in the central Golan Heights. The turbines will be 150 meters tall and have a total production capacity of 100 megawatts, around a quarter the capacity of a medium-sized power plant, like Tel Aviv's Reading Power Station. The farm will cover an area of 15,000 dunams (15 square kilometers) and will be connected to the national grid by a high-tension line.

Experts who reviewed the plan differed in their assessment of the turbine farm’s environmental impact. The landscape architect advising the committee opposed the farm because of its detrimental effect on the landscape. On the other hand, the head of the committee's environmental team, Eyal Kleider, said that the need for renewable energy sources could justify the construction of the turbines.

Area residents also support the plan because Enlight will be paying a significant sum of money to lease the agricultural lands on which the turbines are to be erected.

The energy company estimated that the harm to the eagles would be at least 50 percent lower than what the environmentalists assessed. But the ecologist advising the committee, Gilad Friedman, concluded that the plan should not be approved because of the danger it posed to bird populations at risk of extinction. In the end, Friedman managed to persuade Kleider to oppose the plan, but despite his objections, it was approved.

“Unfortunately, the decision apparently means the extinction of the eagles on the Golan, and perhaps in Israel altogether,” SPNI said in a statement after the meeting. “SPNI supports clean energy, but wind turbines must be erected where they do not pose a danger to species at risk of extinction, so they don’t lead to the widespread slaughter of birds. You don’t solve one environmental problem – advancing clean energy – by causing a different serious environmental problem: endangering the eagles’ future.”

The group said it would do everything it could to block the building of the wind farm at the designated location.