Opponents of planned gas-fired power station take campaign to Germany

Claiming to speak for 500,000 residents, head of Southern Sharon Regional Council appeals via German press to Siemens Energy ahead of company’s September stock market float

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

The logo of German industrial conglomerate Siemens at its headquarters in Munich, Germany, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, file)
The logo of German industrial conglomerate Siemens at its headquarters in Munich, Germany, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, file)

Opponents of plans to build a massive gas-fired power station in Israel went over the head of the Energy Ministry on Monday and appealed directly to the German multinational Siemens via German media.

The Reindeer Partnership, which involves Siemens, the Phoenix Insurance Company and two Israelis — Itay Rochman and Moshe Krieger — is hoping to build what will be Israel’s largest private power plant on a site between Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv, and the nearby Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the West Bank.

Slated to provide 1,300 Megawatts of electricity — equivalent to ten percent of the Israel Electric Corporation’s output today — the plans, backed by the government, are going through the final stages of approval by the National Infrastructure Committee. The plant will store 28,000 cubic meters (almost a million cubic feet) of diesel fuel for emergency backup.

The plant forms part of the government’s vision to wean Israel off coal and move to power generated by natural gas (70 percent) and renewable energy, principally solar (30%) by 2030.

Siemens has created an independent company, Siemens Energy, which accounts for some 40% of the parent company’s sales and will be launched on the German stock market on September 28. On Tuesday, Siemens Energy CEO Christian Bruch was set to present his strategy to investors.

On Monday, Bruch said that natural gas would remain a “pillar” of global energy systems.

At a Zoom press conference for the German business press hosted Monday by Urgewald — a German non-profit environmental and human rights organization — Oshrat Gani Gonen, head of the Southern Sharon Regional Council, said she spoke for half a million residents spread across 18 local councils and two Palestinian cities in the West Bank, all of whom were united in opposition to the project.

“Siemens has managed to unite people in a way that nothing else has been able to do,” she said.

Oshrat Gani Gonen, head of the Southern Sharon Regional Council, appeals to Siemens to ‘walk away’ from plans to build a gas-fired power station in central Israel, August 31, 2020. (Zoom screenshot)

Noting that the plant would be located less than 500 meters (550 yards) from the nearest Israeli and Palestinian homes, Gani Ganon said that it would expose all area residents to noise and contamination of the air, ground and water.

The station will be located above the western basin of the Mountain Aquifer, a key source of drinking water for the country.

She also charged that economic interests, not public health ones, were driving the project and that the planning process, including the choice of location, had been flawed.

Siemens secured the Energy Ministry’s support without taking into account health and environmental data provided by independent consultants, she said, adding that, “there was no public tender process. It was done in the dark.”

Warning that this “might turn out to be one of the most serious breaches” in the development of Israel’s natural gas industry, Gani Ganon said that the case was already being adjudicated at the district court level in Israel and would “without a doubt” reach the Supreme Court.

She said the region would welcome a renewable energy plant instead. “If Siemens were to walk away from this project, it would send a clear message to all of the other proponents of gas plants.”

EcoPeace Israel Director Gidon Bromberg (screenshot)

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace, which brings Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis together to work on cross-boundary environmental protection, said, “There’s nothing anti-corporate or anti-German here. This is an issue of policy. We are surprised that such a leading German company doesn’t have the type of vision that the European public has supported, for example through the European Green Deal.

“This is a bad investment that those considering investing in Siemens need to understand,” he said. “It’s a bad investment in a new fossil fuel station when renewable energy, certainly in our part of the world, which has 300 days of sunshine, is the cheaper, more efficient, clean and right choice to be making.”

Siemens describes itself as “a leading partner for decarbonization for our customers and society.”

“Sustainability for a company is where the corporate and public interests are aligned,” Bromberg said. “We’re not trying to turn corporate organizations into not-for-profits. Here, the corporate interest of profit can be made either in renewables or fossil fuels, but the public interest is clearly in the renewables, so for Siemens to act responsibly, they need to align the two and certainly not build new gas power stations. It’s irresponsible and unacceptable.”

The National Infrastructure Committee says that the station is needed, particularly to serve the growing population of the country’s center, and that the site was chosen because it is surrounded by three main highways (six, 444 and 55) and is close to existing power and gas supply lines.

A committee statement added that the environmental impact survey conducted for the plan showed that it meets “all [of] the stringent environmental standards and [the] Clean Air Act.”

The Reindeer Partnership says on its website that “The company has carried out an environmental impact review, which examines all of the environmental impacts. This review will be published on the Planning Administration’s website after the company receives permission to submit the statutory plan for public scrutiny.”

A second private gas-fired power station is being planned for the Sharon region, on a site near the Kesem Interchange close to the central city of Rosh HaAyin. That station, set to produce 450 MW, has also aroused large opposition.

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