Israel to triple amount of open space dedicated to solar energy production

National Planning and Building Council okays Energy Ministry request for 10,000 more acres to be used for renewable electricity production; Environment Ministry opposes

For Illustation: View of solar panels set up in the Negev desert, June 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
For Illustation: View of solar panels set up in the Negev desert, June 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The National Planning and Building Council on Tuesday approved a proposal to allocate 40,000 more dunams (10,000 acres) of land in open areas for solar power facilities.

The decision falls short of the 69,000 dunams the Energy Ministry, which submitted the request, had sought.

The move is opposed by the Environmental Protection Ministry, which argues better use can be made of the existing dedicated open areas and that solar panels can be installed on roof space in built-up regions, rather than appropriating more land from the countryside.

Objections voiced at the meeting to installing solar panels on existing buildings included the high costs and bureaucratic obstacles, which would deter entrepreneurs.

Setting up new solar sites in open spaces is the preferred alternative, the council found, while at the same time working to remove some of the challenges in placing panels on buildings.

The move raises a 20,000-dunam cap set in 2020 for how much open area can be used for solar power stations.

The planning council also decided that many of the projects for installing solar panels in the newly designated open areas will be authorized by national planning institutes rather than at the local level, in order to speed up the process.

View of a patented floating solar system with adjustable panels made by the Israeli Hi-Tech company Xfloat, at the Tzur water reservoir in the Golan Heights, on April 10, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

According to the Haaretz daily, the director general of the National Planning and Building Council, Rafi Elmaleh, said at the end of the meeting that Israel was “already in a severe energy crisis,” and pointed to blackouts in many areas of the country last week due to demand overload amid a heatwave.

The Environmental Protection Ministry claimed there is no need to allocate fresh areas for solar sites in order to reach a government goal of 30 percent electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030, telling the meeting that an additional 15,500 megawatts of electricity are needed for the milestone. Ministry representatives said that installing solar panels on greenhouses, new buildings, parking lots, water reservoirs and industrial areas could generate over 19,000 megawatts, which would take renewable electricity production to 40% in total.

But the Energy Ministry contested those figures, saying hitting the target will require more use of open spaces, which can be more quickly and easily put to work.

The Finance Ministry demanded completely removing the limit on using open space, with a representative predicting that after 2030 there will a need for an additional 20,000 dunams each year in order get to 50% electricity production from solar sources.

Earlier this year the energy and justice ministries agreed to remove a key barrier to the placement of solar panels on buildings — the need to present a special form issued by a local authority that confirms the completion of construction and allows occupancy to begin.

Many buildings, among them old ones erected before the relevant planning requirements existed, do not have the so-called Form 4 despite having been built legally and receiving occupancy permits.

The Energy Ministry says that at least 10 percent of public buildings for which municipalities requested solar panel loans lacked a Form 4.

View of solar panels and a green field, in Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, on January 23, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

At the planning meeting, Elmaleh also warned against relying on solar energy alone as a power source and recommended moving ahead with the planned construction of new natural gas power plants in the country’s center.

Those power plants must be constructed “as soon as possible so that we do not find ourselves in a situation where power outages… become commonplace,” he said.

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