National Infrastructure Committee last week rejected a plan to install 20 wind turbines at Ramat Sirin in northern Israel’s Lower Galilee region. It was the first time since the committee was established 17 years ago that it turned down a plan submitted to it for approval. The panel cited the potential damage to bird and bat populations as well as interference with Israel Air Force operations in its decision, which was supported by 11 members of the committee with one abstention.
The committee was established in 2002 to expedite the approval process for installations of national importance, including airports, power generating stations, roads, seaports and water and waste treatment plants. Its authorities are similar to those of the National Planning and Building Council. All plans approved by the committee are submitted to the cabinet for its approval.
Environmental advocacy organizations and the military regularly oppose wind turbine projects in Israel, and in the past they have foiled a number of them at the level of the regional planning committees.
The National Infrastructure Committee has approved around 100 projects, taking an average of two to two and a half years to render a decision. The Israel Planning Administration, an independent unit of the Finance Ministry, has for years claimed that the committee approves plans quickly but without sacrificing the need for professional discussions and scrutiny. Officials in the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, a nonprofit advocacy organization, argues that the fact that the Ramat Sirin wind farm is the first project ever rejected by the panel proves the “sad situation."
“The committee doesn’t see itself as a planning organization, in which balance and consideration are employed, but rather as an executive branch of the government,” said one source in SPNI who was speaking on condition of anonymity. The committee has a “narrow, draconian and heavy-handed perspective, and its decisions often disrupt long-term national strategy.”