June 5 marks not only World Environment Day and the anniversary of the Six-Day War; this year it also marks the ribbon cutting for the first solar field in the history of the Jewish people. Just as the 1967 war ushered in a new chapter in the strengthening of Israel’s long-term viability, the affixing of the mezuzah on Israel’s first solar field holds the promise of a new era by ending fossil fuels’ role as the exclusive power source for Israel’s growing energy needs.
The prime minister has been occupied by the Palestinian question, so other important matters of state had to take a backseat, including the strategic question of energy independence. Yet this is precisely an arena where the premier can shine, for he is not dependent upon any external partners. It is simply a question of his leadership.
Cutting the ribbon on the first solar field with the international press present, Benjamin Netanyahu could announce a “Six-Day Solar War” to transform Israel’s energy security and international standing. This war on fossil fuels, one victory a day starting June 5, might look as follows:
June 5: Pre-emptive strike. Instead of fueling a new arms race in the Middle East, Israel should quickly announce a 50-percent renewable energy goal by 2025, challenging the region for renewable energy supremacy as measured by solar megawatts. Saudi Arabia recently announced a 5500-megawatt solar program, dwarfing Israel’s modest one. Furthermore, Abu Dhabi has a $15-billion solar program under way. Called the “Masdar Initiative,” it includes a sustainable city, university and major research projects to advance new technologies. Without apologies, Masdar is positioning itself as the global king of green energy. Israel could trump this and other regional initiatives with its own rapid deployment of renewable technologies, green energy entrepreneurship and chutzpadik government policy that takes no prisoners in its effort to achieve the 50-percent renewables goal.
June 6: Eliminate tanks. Gas tanks, that is. The unfortunate fact for the electric car industry is that it still needs fossil-fuel-burning power plants to generate the electricity that powers the vehicles. However, if the government announced that it was mandating that for every electric car plugged into the national grid, there would be a 1:1 renewables offset – such as feeding solar power into the grid in equal proportion to the polluting fuels used to charge the cars – then it would mean that the electrons fueling the cars would effectively be green rather than black. Get this one right now, and Israel could set a global example.
June 7: Liberate Jerusalem. Declare the intention to replace all the street lamps in the Holy City with solar-powered ones, sponsor a solar field in the Negev to offset the carbon footprint of the new light rail, limit electric cars that do not have a carbon offset, ensure that every school and government building is covered with solar panels, including the famously flat Knesset roof, thus making a new Google Earth solar landmark. If the White House can have solar panels, why not the Knesset? Let a new light finally shine forth from Zion.
June 8: Rally world Jewry, on Shavuot. Nigel Savage, leader of the Jewish environmental organization Hazon, challenges the Jewish people to be the first carbon-neutral people on the planet. Every Jewish family and community in the world can calculate its carbon footprint on the Jewish National Fund website, and offset the carbon dioxide by planting trees, underwriting solar projects for Israeli schools and investing in solar fields. Let’s not only plant a tree in Israel, but also install a solar panel. David Schwartz of Chai Planet also plans to create opportunities for world Jewish communities to underwrite pilots for emerging Israeli green technologies.
June 9: Strengthen a moral military. Decide to make the Israel Defense Forces the only carbon-neutral fighting force on the planet. The IDF is the Israel Electric Corporation’s largest domestic customer and it could become carbon-neutral within five years. Since the IDF is already building a fence along the sunny Sinai border, add a 100-meter-wide strip of solar fields along that same 250-kilometer route. It could produce 2500 megawatts of solar power and be the world’s largest solar installation.
June 10: Declare Palestinian independence. Energy independence, that is. The PA in the West Bank gets all of its power from the Israeli grid, which causes strain and probably will bring blackouts this summer. Incentivize and assist the Palestinians to produce their own green energy; it will be cheaper in the long run, and this is an Israeli confidence-building measure that U.S. President Barack Obama and the Europeans would actually applaud and perhaps even sponsor.
While the above program would attract billions of dollars and create thousands of green jobs, none of it will be possible if the current climate of regulatory and policy instability continues. To its discredit, the government has frozen the next stage of its modest solar program, even though that same government is headed by someone supposedly committed to ending the world’s dependence on oil. A lightning victory for the prime minister would be to accelerate the installation of the 4000 green megawatts the government has mandated, with a steadily decreasing price paid for the green energy until grid parity, which is the point, probably around 2015, when the price of regular fossil-fuel electricity equals that of solar. With this correction in place, hopefully by June 5, the country can begin to consider transformative solar plans and become a world leader.
David Rosenblatt and Yosef I. Abramowitz are co-founders of the Arava Power Company, with Kibbutz Ketura, and serve respectively as vice chair and president of its international board. This op-ed is the fourth in a series on green energy.