In Israel, renewable energy has become almost synonymous with solar energy in its various forms.
But what about that other renewable resource – the wind? Worldwide, the wind energy industry is booming, with a $63 billion global market as of 2009, and half a million people employed in wind power-related jobs. China has been doubling its wind power capacity every year for the past five years.
And in Israel? Currently, the country’s entire wind power sector boils down to 10 outdated wind turbines on the Golan Heights. But that may be about to change, as old turbines are replaced with more advanced models, and a handful of other wind energy projects attempt to make their way through a cumbersome bureaucratic process.
At the recent Eilat-Eilat Renewable Energy Conference, solar energy and, to a lesser extent, energy efficiency dominated the discussions. The two sessions that were dedicated to wind power contained good news and bad news for Israel’s emerging wind industry.
The good news: Israel has the potential to generate significant amounts of wind power (one speaker, the CEO of a company that sells wind turbines, estimated an enormous potential capacity of up to 2,500 megawatts). Studies have identified several areas with sufficient wind, including the Golan Heights, Arava, Gilboa and Galilee regions. Plenty of local companies have entered the arena, and a feed-in tariff is even in place.
The bad news boils down to one major obstacle: bureaucracy. Granted, most of the speakers in the sessions were start-up entrepreneurs (whose economic interests tend to clash with government regulations), but even government officials themselves described an exhausting bureaucratic process. Moshe Shitrit, of the Israel Public Utilities Authority, explained the complicated process of attaining a permit to generate power from the wind, which he said currently takes at least 5 years.
Maksim Rakov, a wind entrepreneur, criticized the government’s approval process as “too paternalistic,” noting that every permit requires coordination with multiple state bodies. The Interior Ministry, he said, which is charged with national-level spacial planning, has not yet formulated a policy on wind power. “In a centralized state like ours, no policy is the same as prohibition,” he said.
Dr. Daniel Farb, another entrepreneur, had a few ideas for the regulators, including mandating small wind turbines on the roofs of buildings (alongside solar water heaters), equalizing feed-in tariffs for all forms of renewable energy generation and working with architects to incorporate small turbines into urban landscapes.
Still, despite the difficulties, several new wind power projects are in the planning stages in Israel. In the Golan Heights, those 10 old wind turbines are due to be replaced by 150 modern turbines, boosting capacity to around 300MW – reportedly enough to power the entire eastern Galilee. New large and medium-scale projects are also being planned in the Arava and near Mt. Gilboa, as well as on Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, where a combined solar and wind power scheme is expected to lead to significant savings on electricity costs.
For more news on Israel, see the Jerusalem Post.