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Solar-powered mosque answers prayers in West Bank

Palestinians are making deep inroads into renewable energy and looking forward to much greater independence as more solar power projects pop up all the time.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestine is investing in renewable energy in a bid to end its economic dependency on Israel and achieve energy self-sufficiency. On Jan. 22, the West Bank city of Qalqilya marked a milestone, opening its first solar-powered mosque, Al-Rahmah.

The Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) and the Ministry of Education signed an agreement Jan. 16 for the development and installation of solar panels on the roofs of 500 public schools over a period of four years. The project will generate a total capacity of 35 megawatts of electricity after an investment of $35 million.

Adnan Saeed, the director general of the Awqaf Department in Qalqilya governorate, told Al-Monitor, “The idea for a solar-powered mosque came at the individual initiative of a citizen who collected the necessary funds from his relatives and acquaintances. The idea was approved by the department as economically viable and in line with the national strategy aimed at achieving economic self-sufficiency and supporting investment in renewable and alternative energy.”

Fawaz Fahmi, the citizen behind the initiative, told Al-Monitor that he wanted to finance a solar system to keep the mosque open at all times and not see it closed after every prayer. He said that 36 energy panels producing 8 kilowatts cost about $11,000, and the initiative has indeed led to an increase in visiting worshippers.

Saeed pointed out, “There is another individual initiative to install solar energy systems in the Grand Mosque of Jayyous in the governorate of Qalqilya.” He said that the department is planning to install solar systems in all of the 35 mosques of the governorate, and discussions are ongoing with the municipalities and other supporting parties on private sector initiatives to fund such projects.

Azem Beshara, the director general of Masader company, told Al-Monitor, “The Noor Palestine program was launched by Masader in 2016 to develop solar energy systems and solar power plants with the aim of reducing electricity dependence. The program also targets the domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural and public sectors.”

Beshara noted that the PIF has undertaken to invest in renewable energy for national, economic and environmental reasons. It will provide job opportunities, reduce consumption of Israeli electricity and achieve Palestinian energy self-sufficiency. He noted that the program will cost $200 million and is expected to halve electricity costs.

“During the first phase of the program, we built three solar power plants in the Jenin, Tubas and Jericho governorates at a cost of $30 million, and the first plant will start operating this year. In the next stage, other plants will be built, and we will market solar panels to the commercial sector and private rooftops,” said Beshara.

He stressed that the project to supply 500 public schools out of 2,000 with solar energy systems also aims to spread the values of alternative and renewable energy among students. He said it will not only reduce the government’s electricity bill but also produce surplus energy to sell. Notably, plans are to sell the generated electricity to distribution companies at a price lower than the Israeli price.

Beshara added that investment in alternative energy entails several risks stemming from the current political situation, the Israeli restrictions imposed on Area C, the infrastructure conditions in Palestine and the difficulty of bringing in funding.

Azmi Abdul Rahman, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Economy, told Al-Monitor, “There is a strategic interest in supporting investment in the alternative and renewable energy sector in Palestine.”

On July 18, the Palestinian Cabinet approved a set of incentives encouraging investment in alternative and renewable energy technologies to meet the needs of sustainable development in Palestine. These incentives include reducing the income tax on power plants with a capacity of more than 1 megawatt and enticing companies to adopt solar technology to meet their energy needs, as well as offering financing and lending programs to encourage adoption of solar technology.

Abdul Rahman said that the energy and oil derivatives sector accounts for 42% of Palestinian imports from Israel, and it is draining the Palestinian government. He added that the use of renewable energy has increased to 20% and hopes to see it grow further.

Noor Abu al-Rob, an economic researcher and professor at the Arab American University, told Al-Monitor that any kind of investment creates job opportunities and pointed out that the renewable energy sector is one of the very important sectors that promote economic disengagement between Israel and Palestine, as the West Bank is 100% dependent on the energy imported from Israel, though this percentage falls to 30% for Gaza.

Abu al-Rob praised the incentives offered by the Cabinet, saying Palestine's sunny weather all year round offers an opportunity.

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