Wind energy in Israel: Wind Farm on Golan Heights a ?National Project?

Earlier this year, we reported here about a partnership between the Israeli company Multimatrix and the U.S. energy company AES to build a wind farm on the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the state’s blessing to this enterprise this week, signing a decree that declares the wind farm a national project, the Globes business newspaper reported.

The timing of this announcement might raise some eyebrows – it comes as the U.S. is conducting intensive efforts to jumpstart long-dormant Israeli-Syrian peace talks. It is widely assumed that any future peace accord between the two states would entail an Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the Golan Heights, including the site where Multimatrix and AES plan to invest some $400 million in building 70 giant wind turbines, capable of generating a total of 155 megawatts.

Uri Omid, the CEO and controlling shareholder of Multimatrix (a public company, traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange) told Reuters earlier this year that he is not worried about the political future of the Golan: “If the land is returned to Syria in a peace deal, we will be compensated. Regardless, this wind power project can work for us or work for them. Someone will always need the electricity.” Meanwhile, the company has leased land from local Druze residents and is planning to begin construction within six months. The wind farm is expected to be in full operation by late 2012.

‘Largest renewable energy project in the Mideast’

“This is the first very large and practical wind energy project of its kind in Israel, and in the entire Middle East,” Omid told Globes. “Both the finance minister and the minister of the environment supported the move, and for good reason: they were impressed that one of the solutions to the expected energy shortage in Israel in the coming years is within reach, and not in the depths of the Mediterranean, without the need for special installations to transport gas, without capital market speculation, and without pollution of any kind.”

Lobbying for a higher feed-in tariff

The Globes report did not explain what funding or other benefits come with the “national project” designation assigned by Netanyahu this week. But the report noted that Multimatrix is lobbying the government to receive a higher tariff for electricity sold to the Israel Electric Corp. Today, Multimatrix argues, the feed-in tariff for solar-generated electricity is more than four times higher than the price paid for wind-generated power.

By Ira Moskowitz,