4th solar energy field at Negev’s Ashalim starts operating, setting new low price

Government says tariff for electricity generated from photovoltaic panels charged by operator EDF Renewables will just be 8 agorot per kilowatt-hour

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Ashalim solar power station in the Negev desert. August 21, 2020.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ashalim solar power station in the Negev desert. August 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s fourth solar energy farm at Ashalim in the Negev Desert has started operating and will supply power at a record low price in the electricity market, the government announced on Wednesday.

The field of photovoltaic panels will supply electricity at 8 agorot (2.2 cents) per kilowatt hour (1 kilowatt of power sustained for one hour), significantly cheaper than any other power plant generating electricity from solar energy in the country. The tariff compares with a price of 40 agorot per kWh at Ashalim’s first solar plant, which started producing energy in late 2017.

The government said that the set price is cheaper than electricity production using polluting fossil fuels, and lower than similar projects around the world.

In a joint statement, the Finance Ministry, Energy and Infrastructure Ministry, and Israel Electricity Authority announced that construction at the fourth solar power plant in Ashalim had been completed and it will begin pumping electricity to the grid.

“The renewable energy potential of the Israeli electricity sector currently lies mainly in solar projects,” said Accountant General Yali Rothenberg. “Limited land resources, the climate crisis, and the challenging goals in the field of renewable energy require cooperation between government ministries in order to promote the projects and achieve certainty in their implementation.”

Ashalim Solar Park Ltd., led by the Israeli arm of the French company EDF Renewables, and the winner of the government tender for the construction and operation of the 40 MW photovoltaic solar power plant, has completed the acceptance tests for the facility and obtained a permanent production license to start commercial operation.

Thermo-solar plants take sunlight and transform it into heat before using it for electricity. The photovoltaic (PV) system — the preferred one these days — captures the sun’s rays and converts them directly into electricity.

Ashalim already has two thermo-solar power fields producing 120 MW per year each and one photovoltaic one that generates 30 MW yearly. Together, the four stations in Ashalim – two thermo-solar power plants and two photovoltaic power plants – will supply electricity totaling more than 300 MW yearly, the government said.

The operation of the public-private partnership solar farms is part of the government’s goal to generate 30 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable, i.e., solar energy by 2030, up from a previous target of 17%, as it looks to phase out coal use.

Under the public-private partnership model, the developer is responsible for the planning, financing, construction and operation of the solar power plant for a period of 25 years, at the end of which the plant will be returned to the state.

“The operation of the facility is a significant milestone in advancing production from renewable energies in accordance with the government’s goals,” said Amir Shavit, chairman of the Electricity Authority. “The authority will continue to promote the construction of clean and competitive electricity generation facilities.”

The government said that it is currently advancing additional projects, including a solar farm complex in Ashalim with a generation capacity of up to 100 MW and a solar complex near the city of Dimona with a capacity of up to 300 MW. Together, the projects are expected to reach a total power generation scope of over 700 MW.

Earlier this month, EDF Renewables said it completed a financing deal with the Harel Group for close to NIS 1 billion for seven of its solar energy projects in Israel with a total capacity of 189 MW.

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