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‘Gas can wait,’ says energy minister, rejecting panel’s call for further exploration

Addressing a renewable energy conference in Eilat, Karine Elharrar vows that 2022 will be the ‘year of renewable energy’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A new solar field in Timna, southern Israel, built by EDF Renewables Israel and formally opened on December 15, 2021. (EDF Renewables Israel)
A new solar field in Timna, southern Israel, built by EDF Renewables Israel and formally opened on December 15, 2021. (EDF Renewables Israel)

Energy minister Karine Elharrar announced Wednesday that “gas can wait” and that she will not accept the recommendations of the former ministry director-general, Ehud Adiri, to continue exploring for natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking at the ninth Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference in Eilat, southern Israel, Elharrar also said the Energy Ministry will be setting up a renewable energy department for the first time.

She pledged that 2022 will be the “year of renewable energy.”

“In the coming year, we will focus on the future, on green energy, on energy saving, and while we’re doing that, we’ll set aside the issue of expanding the development of natural gas which, as we know, is a transition fuel,” she said.

“In the coming year, the Energy Ministry will not adopt the conclusions of the natural gas policy review report and will not embark on the fourth stage of granting licenses for natural gas exploration.

“We will use the coming year for a series of moves that will promote the transition to renewable energies,” Elharrar went on.

“We will establish a renewable energy department in the ministry that will receive substantial attention and resources, promote the national energy efficiency plan recently approved by the government at a cost of about NIS 1 billion ($320 million), invest in research and development, allocate grants for clean energy promotion and significant technological developments, and remove barriers for developers.”

The recommendations to continue exploring for natural gas were made by a committee of representatives from eight government ministries that was established to determine Israel’s gas policy in the years ahead.

Known as “Adiri 2,” after the former ministry director-general (Adiri 1 reported on the same subject in December 2018), the committee called on the government to encourage more exploration for gas and to do so by reaching new agreements with foreign governments, slashing regulations that restrict exports, providing tax incentives to potential gas exploration companies, and helping to fund the expansion of infrastructure to allow for Israeli gas to be transported to Europe and Asia.

The committee said demand for gas as a “transition fuel” on the way to renewables was likely to increase up to 2030 or shortly thereafter, after which it would decline as nations moved more fully to alternative energy sources. After 20 to 25 years, the window for exporting gas would close, it said.

If action is not taken now to develop new sources of gas and export them, the committee reasoned, the country could lose NIS 230 billion ($71.5 billion) in potential income.

Elharrar visited two renewable energy projects in the Arava region before addressing the conference.

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (center) visits the Augwind site at Kibbutz Yahel in southern Israel on December 15, 2021. To the right: Dr Or Yogev, Augwind’s founder and CEO. To the right, Augwind chairman Gabi Seligsohn. (Lovan Studio)

First, she visited Kibbutz Yahel where the Israeli company Augwind has pioneered a renewable energy storage system using just air and water.  The method will go on to “change the world,” she said.

The second was the opening of a new 60 megawatt solar field in Timna by the Israeli subsidiary of French company EDF. The largest solar field in the Arava and the second largest in the country, the NIS 450 million project is the company’s 22nd in Israel. More than 150,000 solar panels have been installed over some 950,000 square meters (235,000 acres).

President Yitzhak Herzog addressed the conference by video, calling on Israel’s regulators to “clearly endorse the use of clean energies” and urging the government not to wait until 2050, by which time Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has pledged net-zero carbon emissions, but to “take action now. Only a carbon-neutral economy will lead us to a better future,” he said.

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej predicted that Israel will fail to reach targets of 30% renewable energy by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.

It is essential to advance a climate law, he added, to anchor the steps for reaching the targets.

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