Lawmakers fast-track environmental initiatives as Knesset set to dissolve

Knesset committees reach 11th hour deals to ease installation of solar panels, while Energy Ministry launches program to make local authorities more energy efficient

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

Electricity-generating solar panels. (Danny Shechtman)
Electricity-generating solar panels. (Danny Shechtman)

Three lawmakers rushed Tuesday to burnish their environmental credentials hours before the Knesset was expected to disband.

The Knesset voted 49-47 overnight Monday-Tuesday against legislation that would have given the Likud and Blue and White parties extra time to reach agreement on a state budget. As a result of the failure to pass a budget, at midnight, the parliament will dissolve and new elections — the fourth in two years — will automatically be triggered.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) announced interministerial agreement on the wording of an amendment to the Land Law to enable apartment blocks — home to some 75 percent of Israelis — to put solar panels on roofs under common ownership with greater ease.

At present, all changes to a commonly-owned roof require the backing of all residents in a building — a fact that has held back the advance of solar panels, according to the Environment Ministry. The proposed amendment, which Gamliel described as “precedent-setting,” will allow for two-thirds of households to approve a solar installation that serves the whole building. It will also enable a single household wishing to install solar panels on a patch of roof proportional to the size of its apartment to do so without the need for the neighbors’ approval.

Continuing her attack on her counterpart at the Energy Ministry, Yuval Steinitz, Gamliel said in a statement that, “In continuation of my opposition to the [Energy Ministry’s] low target of 30% renewable energy by 2030, we are advancing and supporting a revolution in the production of electricity from solar sources in the built environment.”

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel attends a Knesset Economy Committee debate on bottle deposits, September 14, 2020 (Courtesy)

The Environmental Protection Ministry campaigned unsuccessfully for the government to aim for 40% of all energy to come from renewable sources by  2030.

The wording of the amendment was approved Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and the Law Committee, prior to second and third readings in the Knesset plenum.

Announcing another “precedent-setting measure,” lawmaker Miki Haimovich (Blue and White), who chairs the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, announced that an agreement was reached at the same meeting to amend the planning law to encourage those who own or manage water bodies such as fish ponds and sewage treatment pools to convert them for dual use by erecting solar panels over them. Dual use is being encouraged to minimize the need to build solar energy installations in open spaces.

Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Commitee chairwoman Miki Haimovich, September 8, 2020, (Courtesty)

Finally, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz issued a press release proclaiming the start of a “historic” process in which 12 local authorities will get a year of professional support to move toward greener and more efficient use of energy. Also involving the Environmental Protection Ministry and Interior Ministry, this initiative aims to get local authorities to put solar panels on public buildings, plant trees for shade in public areas and ensure a spread of recharging stations for electric vehicles.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection Committee, July 22, 2020. (Adina Velman, Knesset spokes)

The support will come in the form of professional advice, although a commitment to an unspecified amount of funding was also promised in a ministry statement.

The first 12 local authorities and groups of cooperating authorities, known as clusters, to take part are: The Haifa Bay cluster, Haifa, the Carmel Beach Regional Authority, Netanya, Kfar Saba, the Sharon cluster, Raanana, Holon, Lod, Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and Ashdod.

Using separate government funds to bolster local authorities suffering from rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, the three ministries will extend the green and efficient energy program to the southern authorities of Sha’ar HaNegev, Sderot, Eshkol, Ashkelon Beach and Sdot Negev.

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