UN: As World Leader in Solar Energy, Israel Must Cut Fossil Fuel Use

Israel sits at the bottom of the list in terms of producing solar electricity for its own use.

Political criticism of Israel within the United Nations is nothing new, but the organization has opened a slightly more benevolent front: Cristophe Bouvier, regional director for Europe at the UN Environment Program, summoned an Israeli delegate to complain that although Israel is among the leading developers of solar energy technology, it hardly uses alternative energy sources itself, relying instead overwhelmingly on fossil fuels.

Israeli solar energy technology is a world leader in the industry. The Israeli company Solel was recently purchased by German conglomerate Siemens. The Environmental Protection Ministry will be showcasing solar technology as Israel's chief alternative to fossil fuels at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week.

But Israel sits at the bottom of the list in terms of producing solar electricity for its own use. As Bouvier pointed out to Israeli diplomat Ronnie Adam, Israel is behind not only wealthy states like Italy, Austria and Switzerland, but states like Senegal and Eritrea. Bouvier told Adam that the United Nations would like to see much more solar electricity produced in Israel, and offered help.

Less than one percent of Israel's electricity is produced from renewable energy sources. Last year, the government decided to increase this to 10 percent over the course of a decade, adding 250-megawatt solar plants every year for the next ten years. Four sites have already been designated in the Negev and the Arava, but construction has yet to begin on even one of them; the very policy draft was only recently completed. The preparation of the draft raised a number of technical difficulties in implementing the plan, including the large territory needed for each plant, which would come at the expense of agricultural projects and cause inevitable environmental damage.

The breakthrough project within this plan is its largest plant, which is supposed to be constructed near Kibbutz Eshelim in the Negev. The plant would span a territory of 2,500 acres - 1,500 of which were contributed by the Israel Defense Forces at the expense of its training grounds. Environmental organizations have already approved the location, and the tender process has begun.

Despite considerable support from within the Finance Ministry, the plant has already run into some financial as well as administrative difficulties: construction costs are estimated at more than 1 billion Euros, and the license for operating the plant is yet to be drafted by the Public Utility authority.