Israel Advancing Four Power Plants Expected to Dangerously Pollute Air, Groundwater

Environmental Protection Ministry warns that combined pollution from the four natural gas powered plants planned for the Jezreel Valley poses a risk to residents

Zafrir Rinat
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The existing power plant in Alon Tavor, November 2019.
The existing power plant in Alon Tavor, November 6, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat

A government plan to build four power plants based on natural gas is expected to create excessive air pollution in the Jezreel Valley, while a fifth planned plant will endanger an important groundwater reservoir near the Yarkon Springs, two opinions submitted to planning agencies charge.

One was prepared by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the other was commissioned by the Rosh Ha’ayin municipality.

The four plants in the Jezreel Valley, all of which are at various stages of the planning process, will have a capacity of 800 to 1,200 megawatts apiece. All will run on natural gas with solar backup.

One plant will be built near Beit She’an, a second near Moshav Nir Yafeh, a third in the Sagi 2000 industrial park south of Migdal Ha’emek, and the fourth – the only one that has already been approved – will be located next to an existing power plant in the Alon Tavor industrial park near Afula.

On top of the Israeli plants, the Palestinian Authority is also planning a power plant not far away, in the northern West Bank, with Israel’s consent.

All four plants will built by private entrepreneurs, each of whom conducted environmental impact studies and concluded that none of the plants will cause air pollution above the permitted level. But the Environmental Protection Ministry argues that the four together will in fact create excessive pollution.

If all four plants are operating, the ministry said, they will create unacceptably high concentrations of both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, which contain various poisons. Exposure to these pollutants leads to increased incidence of respiratory and vascular illnesses and deaths

The power plant in Hadera, April 25, 2020.
The power plant in Hadera, April 25, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The biggest problem is the Sagi 2000 plant, the ministry said. It therefore recommended not approving that plant without an in-depth study of its impact on the area’s air quality.

Moreover, the ministry argued, given the goal of encouraging more renewable energy, each of these plants should be weighed against alternatives like solar-operated plants. That echoes a recent ministry report which advocated halting all plans for power plants based on natural gas and considering solar-operated plants instead.

Jezreel Valley residents also fiercely oppose the power plants, and last year, the Jezreel Valley and Gilboa regional councils and the Afula municipality all asked the northern district planning committee to kill the plans. Given the area’s meteorological conditions, they argued, much of the pollution the plants emit will remain there rather than dispersing, and will therefore damage residents’ health.

The fifth power plant being planned will be located near the Qasem Junction, not far from Rosh Ha’ayin. It, too, will run on natural gas with solar backup, so it will require a gas storage facility and a pipeline. The National Infrastructure Committee was slated to consider this plan on Monday.

But this plant would be located next to one of Israel’s most important groundwater reservoirs, the Yarkon Springs, which is in regular use. The Mekorot Water Company deems this reservoir strategically important, because it can produce a volume of water equivalent to two-thirds of the production of an average desalination plant. That makes it an important backup should a desalination plant be shut down.

By law, no activity that could endanger a water source is permitted with a defined protective radius of the pumping site. The Health Ministry has therefore opposed construction plans in the area in the past on the grounds that they extended inside that radius.

The company behind the power plant, Kesem Energy, therefore proposed various measures to protect the groundwater, along with a filtering system should pollutants nevertheless leak.

The Health Ministry and the Water Authority have already agreed that the gas pipeline plant can pass within the protective radius, since the Water Authority said a pipeline wouldn’t endanger the groundwater. But the Health Ministry objects to putting the gas storage facility where the company wants it, based on an expert opinion arguing that such a facility could endanger the groundwater.

The Rosh Ha’ayin municipality opposes the entire power plant, for fear of both air pollution and harm to the groundwater. The opinion it submitted to the National Infrastructure Committee argued that reducing the protective radius around the reservoir would endanger it, because the system in which the state sets conditions and oversees compliance has often proven ineffective.

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