Israel to Favor Natural Gas Over Coal for Power Production

Implementation of order will require development of new power stations that operate on gas and the retirement of old plants using coal

Coal production plant in West Bank's Shomron region. 2010
Moti Milrod

Israel will in the future favor the production of electricity using natural gas over coal, under an order signed this week by National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Implementation of the decision will depend on the development of new power stations that operate on gas and the retirement of old plants using coal.

Thus companies that produce electricity – the Israel Electric Corp. and private producers – will have to report their fuel sources and give preference to natural gas.

In recent years coal-powered stations have been supplying around 40 percent of Israel’s electricity, spewing a significant amount of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Last year Steinitz ordered a reduction in the use of coal, and next year the amount of electricity produced using coal will be 24 percent less than in 2015.

Steinitz signed the order under the electricity law in coordination with the electricity authority. It states that the policy will be implemented once production units 1 to 4 at the Hadera power station are taken offline. Another condition for implementation is a pipeline to three natural gas fields.

Once the conditions are in place, coal will be used “at a minimum, to enable flexibility and reliable supply to the economy.” The only other power station that uses coal is in Ashkelon.

The closure of the units at Hadera must of course be preceded by the opening of new power stations that run on gas. Discussions about building such plants began only recently and at first focused on finding alternative sites in the Hadera region and the wider Sharon region. But at a hearing of the national infrastructure commission a few weeks ago, officials decided to examine whether gas-powered plants could be put up in the existing Hadera power-station compound.

“We welcome the minister’s decision to accept the professional opinion of the Environment Ministry and adopt a reduction in coal use as the permanent and long-term method of operation in Israel, a move that will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and improve residents’ health,” Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin said.

“Now we hope that the energy minister will continue to work hand in hand with us to close the coal-fired units 1 to 4 at Hadera and turn our agreement into a binding cabinet decision."

He added: “The importance of this decision is highlighted by the Bonn Climate Conference now taking place, at which Israel, as a partner in global processes, has committed to reduce greenhouse gases.”

The Israel Electric Corp. has already launched a project costing billions of shekels to reduce the emissions produced by coal using scrubber systems. But the Environmental Protection Ministry argued that even after these systems are installed, the objective should remain to reduce coal use, because this would reduce the expenditures resulting from air pollution and convey that there is long-term demand for natural gas.

“The minister’s decision essentially states that after 2022, when units 1 to 4 at Hadera are closed and scrubbers are used, preference will be given to gas,” said Reut Rabi, who heads the energy department at the Environmental Protection Ministry.