Palestinians are almost entirely dependent on electricity provided by Israel. In Gaza, a local power station provides some 40% percent of the Strip’s electricity. The Palestinians buy electricity in small levels from Egypt and Jordan, but this doesn’t change their dependence on Israel. As a result, the Palestine Electric Company, in cooperation with the Palestinian investment firm Padico, began roughly two years ago to make preparations to build a power station near Jenin.
Palestinians consume about 1,000 megawatts of electricity (700 in the West Bank and 300 in Gaza, as opposed to Israel, which consumes roughly 12,000 megawatts).Israel is in favor of the idea to establish the Jenin power station, as it will free funds for the Israel Electric Corporation’s development plans, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants on Israeli territory.
“Energy for independence”
These figures convinced investor Hanna Siniora [co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, member of the Palestine National Council and the chairperson of the Palestinian-American Chamber of Commerce]and economist Iskandar Najjar [Professor Emeritus at Al-Quds University ]to gather together a group of businesspeople to establish a solar energy project near Jericho. They developed contacts with American and European investors, with an eye toward launching the project in 2013 and producing, in the project’s first stage, five megawatts.
If the business card of the project managers — which reads “energy for independence” — is anything to go by, the project has a clear political bent. “True,” says Siniora, “we want to lower as much as possible our dependence on Israel, because we won’t be able to reach a reasonable level of national security if Israel can, at any point, disconnect our electricity, and even harm the power plant in Gaza, as it did in 2006 as punishment for the abduction of GiladShalit.”
Many of the Palestinians’ energy problems could be solved if they were able to exploit the gas reserves discovered off the coast of Gaza. But it wouldn’t be worth it in order to supply electricity only to Gaza. With this in mind, the Palestinians conducted negotiations in order to sell the gas to Israel, but the State of Israel, when Ariel Sharon was prime minister, chose to buy the gas from Egypt and not from the Palestinians. As a result, the Palestinians are dependent on Israel for the development of the gas field, and to transfer the gas from Gaza to the West Bank, they need Israel’s agreement and assistance. “That’s not the case with solar energy,” Siniora says, laughing: “You can’t set up checkpoints between us and the sun.”
A Modest and Promising Start
For now, Siniora, Najjar and their friends have rented about 100 dunam (24.7 acres) for 25 years in the Jordan Valley near Jericho and Ouja, in Palestinian-controlled Area A. For the production of one megawatt, some 20 dunam (close to five acres) are necessary, so they will only be able to produce five megawatts in the first stage.
The price of producing solar energy is expensive, and requires government subsidies. The leaders of the project looked into Israel’s assistance for the solar project next to Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava region, and asked the Palestinian Authority for a similar amount of aid. All of the partners invested in organizational preparations for the project, amounting to roughly one million dollars. A modest start, says Siniora, but with a promising future.