Israel Nixed Solar Power Plan That Would Have Relieved Gaza Power Crisis

Energy Minister Steinitz, who rejected the plan, is said to have told the entrepreneur behind the venture that Abbas was against it

A Palestinian woman warms herself by a fire inside her house on a winter day, Gaza Strip, January 31, 2018.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz rejected a plan a year ago to develop a solar power station in Israel that could have supplied the electricity for the power-strapped Gaza Strip, TheMarker has learned.

The proposal was made by Shlomi Fogel, an Israeli entrepreneur who is a partner in Israel Shipyards and the Ampa Group, a real estate and non-bank finance company. A friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Fogel, 62, has been a member of Likud since 2007.

>> WATCH: What it's like living with only 4 hours of power a day in Gaza >>

Despite his identification with the Israeli right, Fogel has been involved in several “economic peace” projects, most notably, Jordan Gateway, a free-trade zone industrial park in Jordan six kilometers south of the Sheikh Hussein Bridge adjacent to the Israeli border.

Gaza is suffering a severe power shortage, with most residents getting no more than six or eight hours of electricity a day, and frequently much less than that. The area’s power needs amount to between 150 and 200 megawatts at any given moment.

Fogel proposed developing a solar power station at a cost of $140 million that could supply 100 megawatts of power, said sources who asked not to be identified.

The plant would have been located on 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of land close to the Gaza border, and negotiations had begun with the six Israeli communities that own the land to lease it. Germany’s Deutsche Bank was prepared to finance the project, the sources said.

Why Steinitz rejected it is a matter of dispute.

The sources close to the talks with the Energy Ministry said Steinitz told Fogel that the time was not right for such a project and that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas opposed the idea.

Abbas has been in a prolonged political dispute with Hamas that led the Palestinian Authority to stop paying for Israeli power supplied to Gaza.

For its part, the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry said the proposal was rejected due to “engineering difficulties” after it was reviewed by the Electricity Authority and various experts.

“Supplying the [Gaza] Strip via a high-voltage line (which does not exist today), as well as the problem of the unstable power generated from the photovoltaic installation, would lead to severe voltage fluctuations that could cause a severe disruption to the power supply - both to the Gaza Strip and to consumers on the Israeli side,” it explained in a statement.

Fogel hasn’t give up on his economic peace agenda, which includes undertakings in the West Bank as well as Gaza and Jordan. He hopes to develop other bilateral free-trade zones in the next few years in Jordan.

As well, he is in talks with the Gaza businessman Nabil Bouab about reviving the sewing industry that used to thrive in the area. The two are talking about a factory that would supply international brands like Zara and Jordache. The maker of designer jeans is controlled by the Israeli Nakash brothers, who are partners with Fogel in other business ventures.