Electric Workers Protest in Battle Over Private Power

The brief walkout comes as the government steps up efforts to create competition for the state-owned power monopoly as well as to ensure electricity during the summer.

Some 1,200 Israel Electric Corporation workers walked off the job Monday after refusing orders to link a private sector power station to IEC’s electrical grid.

The brief walkout comes as the government steps up efforts to create competition for the state-owned power monopoly as well as to ensure electricity during the summer.

The head of the IEC workers’ union, David Zarfarti, instructed all employees of the utility’s southern region to go home after management ordered a crew to link a power station being build by Dorad Energy to the grid. The workers returned soon after, after management backed down.

In an effort to head off a summer of threatened power shortages, the Electricity Authority has reached an agreement in principle to buy power from Dorad. Dorad would supply 300 to 600 megawatts between July 1 and September 15, as needed. The company would receive a higher rate if it completes its Ashkelon plant by July, five months ahead of schedule.

Israel is expected to face brownouts this summer in the wake of a serious malfunction in March of a gas-fired generator at IEC’s Gezer power station. The damage could take up to a year to repair. The agreement does not obligate either side to buy or to sell power. This is meant to avoid legal complications that might arise from a contract requiring public money to be spent.

If approved the agreement will end a long-running dispute over Dorad’s demand for a $30 million incentive for early completion of the 840-MW plant, which will cost about NIS 4.2 billion to build.

The agreement is likely to meet criticism from the other big private electricity provider, OPC, whose facility is due to start operations July 1.

The union is against the purchase of privately generated electricity, arguing that it constitutes a kind of “creeping reform” undertaken without its consent. But tomorrow the Haifa District Labor Court will hear an IEC request to bar its employees from preventing Dorad’s plant from being connected to the electrical grid.

Sanctions have also been taken against OPC, prompting Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo in February to warn that the IEC’s failure to connect the OPC plant to the national grid would be an abuse of its position as a monopoly provider of electricity. 

Rachel Levy