Power outages spark heated accusations as grid fails to meet sweltering demand

After estimated 300,000 homes lose power, Electric Corp blames management firm for failing to prepare, latter blames weather, malfunctions, and minister points to last government

Firefighting trucks near the scene of a blaze in central Israel on June 2, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Service)
Firefighting trucks near the scene of a blaze in central Israel on June 2, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Service)

Hundreds of thousands of homes across Israel lost power Friday as a severe heatwave forced officials managing the nation’s electric grid to impose rolling blackouts.

Some 300,000 homes were without power during the peak of the blackouts late Friday afternoon, but by nighttime, only a few thousand customers remained without power, Channel 12 news reported.

The outages came as strong winds from Egypt brought sizzling heat into the country, sending temperatures in some places to a sizzling 43°C (109°F) or higher. Hundreds of fires were sparked by the heat and high winds, leading to service interruptions in places where fires approached high-tension lines, officials said.

Authorities wasted no time in pointing to others to blame for the rolling blackouts.

The Israel Electric Corporation said the Noga electricity management firm had failed to direct it to prepare for higher demand as the heatwave approached.

In a tweet, the IEC said it was “obligated to only act or make plans in coordination with [Noga] for anything regarding preparing for extreme situations.”

It also claimed that Noga turned down its requests to activate units at coal-fired power plants in Ashkelon and Hadera that could have made up for much of the shortfall, the Ynet news site reported.

“If they had given us the option of using them, even a streetlight would not have gone out,” IEC head Meir Speigler fumed, according to Ynet. “They did not give us a single instruction. There are arguments, hand-wringing, and who pays the price? The people.”

Israelis enjoy the beach on a hot summer day in Tel Aviv, June 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Noga said the grid had failed to keep up due to the extreme heat, dust storms covering solar panels, as well as technical malfunctions at a private power plant. They also said an IEC plant had experienced issues, according to Channel 12 news.

“We ask the citizens of Israel not to turn on electrical appliances that are not essential today,” Noga said in a statement.

The firm was created in recent years as part of a reorganization of Israel’s power supply management system meant to help encourage renewable energy generation. Noga took over day-to-day management of the country’s electricity industry from IEC in 2018.

Three of the country’s five water desalination plants were shut down for several hours at Noga’s instruction in order to save electricity for more urgent use, Channel 12 said, adding that the move did not lead to reports of water shortages.

Orot Rabin, an Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) coal-powered power plant on the Mediterranean coast in Hadera, Israel (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Israel Katz blamed the previous government — which fell five months ago — for the outages.

Katz said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet had recently passed a measure to increase electricity production after the previous government failed to act on the matter. He was referring to a decision last week to approve two new power stations.

“As we saw today, the power industry is in deep crisis,” he tweeted, vowing to fix the situation.

The previous government led by former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid had sought to move away from fossil fuel energy production and toward renewables.

Firefighters battled over 220 blazes across the country throughout the day Friday, according to authorities.

Hundreds of acres of forests planted on KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund land were burned, the development organization said.

A fire near Shilat in central Israel on June 2, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Services)

One man was hospitalized with heatstroke, but no other major injuries from the dangerous weather were reported. Firefighters managed to act quickly to control the brushfires, limiting property damage in many cases.

Temperatures reached as high as 44°C (111.2°F) along the Gaza border, 45°C (113°F) in the Jordan Valley, 43°C (109°F) in Tel Aviv, 35°C (95°F) in Jerusalem and 38°C (100°F) in Haifa.

Sustained wind speeds reached nearly 30 mph in the southern city of Arad and the central town of Beit Dagan, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.

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