Long and elegant, wind turbines are expected to become a new fixture of the Israeli skyline. As part of its bid to decrease greenhouse gases and search for new and renewable energy sources, Israel plans for five percent of its national energy needs to be supplied by the wind, by 2012.
Helping Israel reach the goal of 300 megawatts is a new commercial project proposed by Israeli businessman Shlomo Shmeltzer and Eli Ben-Dov, the former deputy division chief at the Israel Electric Corporation.
With financing of some $100 million expected to come from Afcon Industries, part of Shmeltzer’s Shlomo Group, Israel’s leading car rental, leasing and services company and a holding company for diverse industrial outfits, the parties are currently negotiating with local regulators in order to install two new wind farms in Israel – one in the Arava Desert in the south of Israel, and one in the north. It is estimated that 150 megawatts of energy will be produced by the new venture.
Israel is no stranger to wind energy. On the top of Benei-Rasan in the Golan Heights are 10 candy-cane striped wind turbines that have been operating since 1993.
The output from the farm, whose gently swooshing blades can be heard by those driving by, supplies pollution-free energy to about 20,000 people.
“We’ve been trying for the last one-and-a-half years to develop wind energy projects here in Israel, but there is a lot of regulation and bureaucracy with regards to the use of the land,” says Afcon Industries’ CEO Avi Winter.
“It’s also a challenge finding the right places in Israel where the wind is strong enough to make it profitable. The Golan Heights, in the Galilee, and a number of places in the Arava are suitable,” says Winter, unable to disclose the exact locations his company is negotiating over.
Even when Winter gets the go-ahead from the government, there will still be a long two-year wait until the wind turbines will be built. But land, he reports, has been surveyed to ensure bird traffic won’t be compromised. If all goes according to plan, this will be the largest wind powered venture in Israel and possibly the Middle East.
Afcon, which is traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and is one of Israel’s largest industrial groups, is ready to meet the challenge, says Winter. The Petah Tikva-based company designs, manufactures, installs and integrates electromechanical systems in Israel and around the world.
The company, which employs 800 and saw $120 million in sales in 2006, already supplies electrical systems for industry and trade in Israel, and recently installed the electrical system for an Intel Israel plant. It has also been contracted by airports in Jamaica and at tourist resorts throughout the Caribbean.
Although the motivation to enter the field of wind energy is the prospect of making money, Winter tells ISRAEL21c that the new project, the company’s first in clean-tech, “speaks for the environment. We all care about the environment today,” says Winter. “But as a company we are looking to do business. If it wasn’t something profitable we wouldn’t touch it.”