green kibbutzim

a recent posting in the nytimes highlights the innovative solar power plans at kibbutz keturah in the arava. i visited there a few weeks ago on a pardes trip.
Spurred by government incentives, ample sunshine and investments from energy companies eager to turn a profit, a growing number of south-Israel kibbutzim — those communal-living enterprises that have traditionally emphasized ideals like collective labor, egalitarianism and natural living — are turning to state-of-the-art energy projects.

The aim: to position their region as the Silicon Valley of renewable energy.

Nudging that effort along this week, Israel’s National Infrastructures Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, signed the country’s first two solar power licenses.

The first was given to E.D.I.G. Construction Management, Ltd., which has built a thermosolar energy site with a capacity of up to 100 kilowatts at Kibbutz Samar in the Arava Valley. The second licensee, the Arava Power Company, plans to build a photovoltaic facility with a capacity of up to 4.9 megawatts at nearby Kibbutz Ketura.

For its part, Kibbutz Ketura owns a forty percent stake in Arava Power, while the remaining 60 percent of the company is owned by American investors led by former multimedia executive and current president of Arava Power Company, Yosef Abramowitz. Arava Power has also signed a deal with 16 other kibbutzim in the area that is expected to give the company enough land assets to build capacity for another 500 megawatts of solar electricity, at a cost of $2.5 billion — or around $5 dollars a watt.

Last week, Mr. Ben-Eliezer also pledged that by 2020 between 10 to 20 percent of Israel’s energy production would come from solar and other renewable sources. As part of the agreement, the Negev and Arava regions of southern Israel were designated as renewable energy zones by the economic cabinet of the Israeli government.

Other area kibbutzim with a committment to green energy include Kibbutz Neot Smadar and Kibbutz Yotvata, which recently built a 50-kilowatt solar panel rooftop installation. Kibbutz Lotan, meanwhile, maintains a bird reserve, a center for creative ecology and a green apprenticeship program.

One Lotan resident, Noam Ilan, who directs renewable energy efforts for the Eilat-Eilot region of the country and last month helped organize an international renewable energy conference in Eilat, is optimistic about the coupling of renewable energy and kibbutzim.

“We see renewable energy as a catalyst for the region’s development and we have all the natural conditions to implement this new energy here,” Mr. Ilan said in a telephone interview from Israel. “The kibbutzim are the main entities. We hope it will be a new income source for them because these communities only live on agriculture and tourism. This is the biggest opportunity for their future growth.”

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