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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Large-Scale Solar Field Could be a Model for Israel-Palestinian Partnership

The inauguration of Israel's first solar field, at a kibbutz in the Negev Desert.

As a small Middle Eastern country with no oil of its own, Israel’s long-held dream of energy independence has been just that, a dream. And as for the Palestinians, not having a state of their own has also put energy independence out of reach.

But one thing Israel and the Palestinian territories do have in abundance is sunshine. So, why not go solar?

Sunday, Israel unveiled its first commercial solar field at Kibbutz Ketura. The facility consists of a few dozen rows of 15 foot-high solar panels in the southern desert. When it goes online, the five mega-watt field will supply electricity to three nearby kibbutzim.

The Israeli company behind the project – Arava Power Company – says this is just the beginning. Executives say they are planning to sink $2 billion of investment capital into 40 more solar projects in Israel.

It is early days still for Israel’s commercial solar industry. But this one facility is already seen as a model for an interesting new partnership.

Gershon Baskin, an American-born Israeli activist and a senior advisor to Palestine Power, which is getting help from the multinational parent company of Arava Power.

Baskin says it is high time for Israelis and Palestinians to get serious about alternative energy.

“Israel has been the cutting edge in the development of green technologies, but most of it is exported,” Baskin said. “Israel is pretty backwards in terms of its own care of its own environment. And Palestine is even worse.”

Baskin added, that “for two peoples who are fighting over land that they claim that they love, they’ve done a tremendous job of polluting this place, of destroying the land, destroying the environment, destroying the water resources we have, polluting the air, you name it. This country is an environmental mess.”

Power Deficit

Beyond the aim of saving the environment, there are strategic reasons for Israelis and Palestinians to help each other go solar. Israelis, for example, are living with an electrical power deficit and the government plans to make up for it with coal.

At the same time, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza buy almost all of their power from Israel. Gershon Baskin says every kilowatt hour produced by Palestinian solar power would end up helping Israel.

“We’ll save the environment in Israel,” Baskin said. “We’ll save the environment in Palestine by having renewable energy. It all goes together: it fits economically, it fits environmentally and it fits in terms of building models for peaceful coexistence.”

First Solar Field Launched in Israel in Arava

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