Plan for Wind Turbines in Golan Heights – While Sparing Local Vultures – Passes Key Hurdle

The move is part of a program under which by 2030, 17 percent of Israel’s energy production will be derived from renewable sources

File photo: Wind turbines in Israel.
Gil Eliahu

The National Infrastructure Committee has approved a plan to build a wind turbine farm in the Golan Heights, leaving final approval by a housing panel largely a formality.

In a statement, the planning authorities noted that the plan stemmed from a cabinet decision three years ago under which by 2030, 17 percent of Israel’s energy production would be derived from renewable sources.

For that purpose, the electricity authority has set a quota of 800 megawatts that can be produced by wind power.

The plan includes the construction of 42 wind turbines in the southeastern Golan Heights – the poles are 85 meters (279 feet) high and the plates are 65 meters long. Each will provide about three megawatts of electricity, so the farm will produce about 126 megawatts.

The turbines will be built on 15,000 dunams (3,707 acres) of land belonging to the communities of Yonatan, Alonei Habashan, Ramat Magshimim, Mevo Hama, Natur, Kanaf and Avnei Eitan.

The farm will be linked up to the grid of the Israel Electric Corporation via a substation at Kursi near Lake Kinneret. In a boon for the environment, the developer will pay for placing the high-tension cables underground and help spare the landscape.

The plan was accompanied by a study on its effect on the environment, including its effect on birds in the region.

Ornithologists fear that the turbines will endanger birds – mainly vultures including Egyptian vultures in the Golan area, which are on the verge of extinction. In other countries many vultures, including Egyptian vultures, have been killed when they collided with turbines' blades.

Monday’s decision “creates the proper balance between the production of clean energy and safeguarding rare birds in the Golan Heights region,” said a key official on the National Infrastructure Committee, Nava Alinsky-Radi.

In its decision, the committee adopted the agreements reached between the developer – Rosh Ha’ayin based Enlight Renewable Energy – and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

These agreements include observation points and radar that will locate birds approaching turbines, some of which will be able to be turned off. But the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said the agreements did not provide the required protection.

“We were sorry to hear that the National Infrastructure Committee has decided to ignore the professionals who advise it, who recommended that it implement mechanisms that would guarantee the ability of the planning institutions and the public to ensure the safeguarding of the vultures and Egyptian vultures in the Golan,” the nature society said.

“The committee erred when it decided not to implement these mechanisms, and the SPNI will continue to work with the tools at its disposal in order to protect the birds.”

For its part, Enlight said: “The approval of the National Infrastructure Committee is a very significant milestone in the process of receiving the permits for constructing the project, but it is still in its development stages and we have not yet received all the permits required for building it, including the approval of the housing cabinet, a construction permit, approval of rates, approval of financial closing and so on.

“Therefore, there is no complete certainty regarding the completion of the project. The company’s initial estimate is that in 2019 it will be possible to complete the process of receiving all the permits.”