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Why Gantz Really Opposes New Power Plant

Alon Tal
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The Ashkelon power plant is seen in the background at the Zikim beach in southern Israel, in May.
The Ashkelon power plant is seen in the background at the Zikim beach in southern Israel, in May.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Alon Tal

Nehemia Shtrasler’s column in Friday’s Haaretz claimed that Defense Minister Benny Gantz wants “a new power plant, just not in his back yard.” If he had only bothered to check the facts behind the minister’s position, he would have written: “Gantz is implementing his party’s environmental platform,” or possibly “Gantz is abiding by the commitment Israel made at the Glasgow climate conference,” or even: “Gantz prioritizes the following generations over his convenience.”

In his article, the Haaretz columnist relates to the current arguments over the need to build two new gas-fueled power stations. In his opinion, there will be no shortage in electricity eight years from now. In his world, there is no climate crisis that is scorching Europe earlier than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In his world, there is also no unprecedented progress concerning renewable energy, with a massive introduction of these technologies into the market. Shtrasler reminds his readers that “the sun doesn’t shine at night;” there are no storage technologies, no “green” hydrogen or importation of electricity from Jordan or use of artificial intelligence for controlling loads on transmission lines – technologies which are already being tested in Israel. He also refrains from relating to the serious work done by the Net Zero Emissions (NZO) project, the Ministry of Energy and the Israel Electric Corporation and to plans made for meeting the targets set for producing electricity through renewable energies in 2025 and 2050.

After accusing the ministers of energy and environmental protection of populism and surrender to environmental activists, he moves on to assail Gantz. It’s too bad he didn’t take the time to study the energy policy of the defense minister and his Kahol Lavan party.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz this month, at a press conference.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The party’s position on the construction of power stations driven by gas was determined before the 2021 election following a thorough discussion. Back in 2019 I initiated an appeal by 100 Israeli scientists, including some Nobel Prize laureates, addressed to then-energy minister Yuval Steinitz, regarding his support for new power stations.

We wrote that “in the short term, the effect of methane, emitted to the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, is 84-fold greater (per mass unit) than that of carbon dioxide, four times larger than the original estimates. During the production, treatment and conduction of gas, methane is emitted in far larger quantities than previously estimated.”

Furthermore, we explained that in light of the sharp decline in the cost of storing energy and the technological progress being made, one can expect such stations to cease their operations ahead of schedule, with the state continuing to pay developers for many years, based on contractual commitments.

A delegation of scientists, including the lauded economist Prof. Yisrael Aumann, presented these findings to Energy Minister Steinitz. I brought this principle-based viewpoint to a steering committee that was drafting the platform of the Kahol Lavan party a year and a half ago. Along with Deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster, we traveled to towns close to the projected site, we met their mayors (Jews and Arabs), and formulated our position.

It should be noted that the defense minister recused himself from the meeting due to the proximity of his house to the projected site of the new power station, near the Kesem interchange. Accusations claiming that his position stems from personal motives are particularly irritating, since the exact opposite is true.

In contrast to Shtrasler’s claims, the energy policy of Gantz and his party is comprehensive, not dependent solely on increasing the supply of electricity and meeting demand. The party’s platform explicitly mentions the advancement of cabinet resolution number 542, taken in 2015, which set a target for reducing electricity consumption by 17 percent by 2030.

It’s not clear why Shtrasler chooses to focus on Europe, relating to countries which did not properly plan their long-range energy economy. It would be better to learn from countries like Denmark, which for years has been strengthening its renewable energy infrastructure and is already producing 67 percent of its energy from renewable sources. This didn’t happen on its own. It happened because political leaders decided not to listen to short-term economic conceptions and had the courage to build an alternative infrastructure that would enable humans to live in harmony with the earth. It’s time Israel followed suit.

We are facing an election, a period in which parties are supposedly expected to present the public with their core beliefs, through detailed platforms. The prevailing thought is that in terms of political platforms, anything goes. The fact that there is one party which tries to fulfill its election promises should gladden the public, as well as Shtrasler, even if he disagrees.

Over the years, Israel has ignored the climate crisis, as if this were a problem of the international community that needn’t bother us. But this summer’s events in Europe are a reminder that the climate crisis cannot wait to be addressed and that scientists’ forecasts were not only accurate but probably too conservative. The emission of greenhouse gases from gas-fueled poswer stations will remain in the atmosphere for many years, continuing to “broil” our grandchildren.

It’s hard to keep one’s eyes closed in light of broken temperature records and their associated corollaries. The heat waves, the burning forests, the melting of airport runways, and, of course, the harm to people’s health all make it clear: The climate crisis is here and the planet is sick. Belatedly, the international community is trying to shoulder the burden and move the globe to a healthier situation – one that will give our children a chance of living with some minimal climate stability and enjoying the environmental conditions we were fortunate to have.

The urgency caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine is almost self-evident: We have to complete the global transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy. A position which ignores available alternatives, including floating turbines at sea, an increase in production from renewable energies (in Israel it’s only 10 percent of the total) and increasing energy efficiency, is for me an immoral and patently irresponsible one.

Alon Tal is a Knesset member from Kahol Lavan-New Hope, a professor in environmental policy and the chairman of a Knesset subcommittee dealing with the impact of climate and the environment on public health.

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