Israel's Treasury Wants More Land for Solar Facilities, but Environment Officials See No Need

Israel won't reach its renewable energy targets without additional land, the Finance Ministry says. The Environmental Protection Ministry, however, says existing space just needs to be used properly – and a decision on the matter was postponed until the end of the year

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Solar panels in Neve Mivtah in southern Israel, last October.
Solar panels in Neve Mivtah in southern Israel, last October.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Israel’s National Planning and Building Council voted on Tuesday to delay until the end of the year a Finance Ministry request to designate additional land for solar facilities to generate electricity.

At the vote meeting, it became apparent that less than a quarter of the more than 20,000 dunams (4,000 acres) of additional land that was set aside about 18 months ago for solar energy installations had actually been used. The council decided to wait until the end of the year to determine whether the additional land that the treasury is seeking is really needed.

Some 47,000 dunams have so far been approved for photovoltaic solar energy installations, but on Tuesday the Finance Ministry said another 20,000 were needed if the government was going to meet its target of generating 30 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade. According to the Planning Authority, that would require 12,000 megawatts of additional generating from renewable sources and would come mainly from photovoltaic solar panels.

Of that, 2,000 megawatts are due to be generated on land specifically set aside for the purpose, with the remaining 10,000 to come by installing solar panels at sites being used for other purposes, such as reservoirs and farmland, as well as the roofs of buildings.

Shani Mandel, the Finance Ministry’s energy coordinator, told planning council that planning committees had been turning down developers’ applications to develop solar facilities in open areas. “You can’t give a flat no to the use of land. It’s like trying to solve the housing crisis only through urban renewal and not freeing up any land for new construction,” she said.

Solar panels above the Habonim reservoir in northern Israel, last August.Credit: Hof Hacarmel Water Association

The developers must be offered a degree of certainly when it comes to planning, and they must be allowed to use greenfield sites for renewable-energy projects, she said, pointing out that developing solar facilities at sites being used for other purposes is more costly due to infrastructure requirements.

The Health Ministry said it supported the treasury request because increased use of solar power would reduce emissions from coal and natural gas-fired power stations. The Environmental Protection Ministry, on the other hand, told the council that is saw no need to allocate more land for solar. Environment officials said a study had concluded that the greenfield sites and roofs already approved would be enough to meet, and even surpass, the 30 percent target by as much as 10 percentage points.

The Hadera power plant in northern Israel, in 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

Dalit Zilber, the Planning Authority’s director, also expressed opposition to additional land allocations, saying she preferred locating solar facilities in urban areas in the center of the country rather than erecting high-tension power lines from the Negev, where the additional open space for solar facilities is available, to the center.

For its part, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry officials told the council that in principle more land should be set aside, but they recommended deferring a decision until the end of the year, when officials could better gauge the pace at which developers were developing renewable-energy facilities.

The ministry noted that new policies had recently been established to encourage dual-use sites, which included, among other things, not requiring construction permits for the installation of solar panels on fishponds and reservoirs. A pilot project to install panels at cemeteries is underway, they added. In addition, there are plans to invite bids to install panels on the roofs of government buildings and a proposed master plan that would allow them on 190 agricultural plots.

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