Solar energy projects can proceed once again after nearly two years of deadlocks, after the cabinet on Wednesday approved new quotas for subsidized solar energy production. The move came following political quarrels, particularly over a clause granting government guarantees to solar projects in West Bank settlements.
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Energy Minister Silvan Shalom had insisted last year that the proposal include a clause containing a government commitment to pay back debts incurred by projects built within settlements should their operations be harmed at any point over the next 20 years due to a diplomatic agreement.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid objected to this clause due to the potential cost. In February, Lapid petitioned against the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s decision to approve the proposal, arguing that including such a clause would set a precedent enabling other businesses to argue for equal protection, as there was no justification for offering such backing only for businesses in the West Bank.
Yet after a one-on-one meeting with Shalom, Lapid agreed to withdraw his petition, paving the way for the proposal to go through.
The proposal received the approval of 11 ministers. Seven voted against, including those from Yesh Atid and Hatnuah. Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz of Hatnuah abstained.
However, the bill also includes a cabinet decision not to meet the renewable energy goals that it previously set for the nation – 5 percent of total power production by this year – due to Finance Ministry pressure to allocate the subsidized solar energy production quotas over the next three years.
There is also a quarrel over an Energy and Water Resources Ministry plan to favor large solar farms at the expense of smaller producers and household solar panels. The ministry pushed the bill to include a clause stating that 75% of the total quota – 400 megawatts out of the total 540 megawatts – would go to huge solar projects connected directly to the national electricity grid, particularly two projects by the Israel Corp and the Arison group’s Shikun & Binui. These companies belong to two of Israel’s largest conglomerates, and the two projects will cost a total of 2 billion shekels to build and cover 7,000 dunams (some 1,700 acres) in total.
This proposal comes despite professional opinions that such solar fields will strain the limited electricity transport network in Israel’s south.