Golan Heights project on fast track

ISRAEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has designated the country's first major wind farm as a "national infrastructure project", which places the project on a fast-track authorisation process.

The 155MW wind farm in the Golan Heights will be developed by a 50:50 partnership between Israeli firm Mei Golan and US energy giant AES. By the time of the designation in September, the project was already well through the permitting process. Zahal Harel, who heads Mei Golan, says the project could receive all the required authorisations next year and build could begin in early 2012.

The farm could eventually be built up to 380MW. As discussions about the siting of some turbines continue, it is still possible that the first phase of the project could see as much as 200MW installed. A manufacturer has yet to be chosen for the 2.5MW turbines to be used.

Mei Golan operates Israel's sole existing commercial wind farm, a 6MW facility built in the early 1990s using outdated 600kW Floda turbines and now operating at 4.8MW. "We are not fixing two of the turbines because that wind farm will soon be repowered to 14MW," explains Harel. All the permits have been received for the repowering, which will take place in 2011.

Financial backing is likely, with Tel Aviv-listed Israeli investment company Multimatrix finalising an agreement to acquire 49% of Mei Golan. "Israel is going to be a huge market for wind," says Multimatrix CEO Yuri Omid, who believes there is capital in Israel to invest in both domestic and foreign wind initiatives.

Multimatrix will help finance Mei Golan's wind development pipeline, which Harel says includes three other projects in Israel with a combined capacity of 400MW. Israel's government will need projects like this one planned for the Golan Heights, because it wants to source 5% of electricity from renewable energy by 2015 and 10% by 2020, compared to less than 1% now. Israel's wind energy potential is estimated at 1GW or more.

Mei Golan is looking to grow outside Israel, and has a fully permitted 250MW wind farm planned in Albania, with the power set to be exported via an undersea power cable to Italy, which has a bilateral treaty with Albania.

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