Solar energy power may be ‘wheeled’ across Israel from West Bank to Gaza

An innovative project to produce solar power in the West Bank and use the Israeli network to deliver it to Gaza is under discussion

The project, initiated by the environmental peacebuilding organisation EcoPeace, is the first of its kind.

Palestinian investors would invest in new solar farms in Area C, the Israeli controlled area of the West Bank. The electricity will be sold to the Palestinian authority in Gaza, meeting a desperate need for increased electricity supply in the area.

Israel would facilitate the transfer of the electricity through the Israeli network and deliver it to Gaza. This process, known as “wheeling the electricity across”, would enable Palestinians in Gaza to benefit from production in the West Bank.

EcoPeace Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg said the electricity initiative offered opportunities to improve environmental problems in both Israel and Palestine and to increase the economic independence of the Palestinians.

“In principle, we have support from all sides,” he said. “This is a win-win for all sides, if it moves forward.”

Bromberg said Gaza desperately needed more electricity to power its sewerage plants.  Three existing sewerage plants do not have enough electricity and a fourth plant needs to be built.

Water quality is an enormous problem in Gaza. A World Bank report found that only 4% of groundwater met drinking water quality standards. It said 97% of Gaza residents got their water from private wells and small-scale informal desalination plants.

When the sewerage plants fail, sewage drifts up the coast, affecting Israel as well as Gaza. In the past, a desalination plant in Ashkelon has been forced to close temporarily because of pollutants flowing up the coast from Gaza.

“The precarious state of the water supply in Gaza threatens public health on both the Palestinian and Israeli side,” Bromberg said.

Ecopeace initiatives have already been dramatically successful in improving water quality in Gaza. For the first time in more than a decade, Palestinians are able to swim at the beach.

The improvement was a direct result of awareness in Israel that pollution does not stay on the Palestinian side of the border. Ecopeace was able to show that pollution from Gaza was not only shutting down the Ashkelon plant but also threatening the next plant along in Ashdod, which together provide more than 30% of Israel’s drinking water. That realisation prompted Israel to allow cement into Gaza for building the sewerage plant.

But the plants are not functioning at full capacity, because of the electricity shortage. The solar electricity project is the solution.

The project has economic as well as environmental advantages. Some of the electricity now being used to run the existing plants is diesel, which is both highly polluting and expensive, Bromberg said.

Solar energy is cheaper, making it a viable investment for private investors in the West Bank.

“This is an opportunity to promote environmental resilience in the region and to allow the Palestinians to produce renewable energy that will benefit their economy and remove their reliance on Israeli electricity,” Bromberg said.

Photo: Ashalim Power Station in the Negev, Israel (Wikipedia)