Higher production incentive expected -- Israeli plans for 600 MW

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A 6 MW wind farm built in the Golan Heights in 1992 continues to be Israel's sole source of wind power, but plans are in the works to boost installed wind capacity to around 600 MW in coming years. Mei Golan Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Mei Golan mineral water group, is working with US energy giant AES on a 380 MW wind project in the Golan Heights and a 200 MW project in the southern part of Israel. At the same time, Afcon Industries is hoping to get its first project, 30 MW in Rabat Sirin and Gilboa, up and running shortly.

Driving the activity is an expectation that the country's National Utility Authority is soon to improve its incentive payment for wind power production. The purchase price bonus, valid for the full operational life of the plant, currently stands at about $0.02/kWh (EUR 0.015/kWh), bringing the overall price paid for wind-generated electricity to around $0.10/kWh (EUR 0.078/kWh). The expectation is that the production incentive will increase by 25-50%.

Mei Golan, alongside developing its two larger projects, is also in the process of repowering its old 6 MW plant of Austrian-designed Floda 600 kW turbines in Tel Assania, increasing capacity to 14 MW. "At the moment, we are in the final stage of the supplier agreement with a wind turbine manufacturer and we hope to start installations in the third quarter of the year," says the company's Zahal Harel.

Its more ambitious 380 MW Golan Heights wind farm is expected to get government approval by the end of 2009 or the first quarter of 2010, says Harel. The choice of technology is likely to be 2.5 MW turbines from GE Energy, although no formal agreement has yet been announced. Construction of the first 200 MW phase of the project is expected to get underway in 2010.

Mei Golan's second large project, 200 MW in southern Israel, is still in early development. "We hope to have all the land issues closed soon and then we will start zoning and permitting," says Harel. Wind data collection at the site has revealed good wind speeds of 7.5-7.8 metres a second.

From Afcon Industries, Eli Ben-Dov says turbines have been secured for the company's 30 MW in Rabat Sirin and Gilboa, but due to licensing restrictions on tower height and rotor diameter they are sub-megawatt size. Further details will only be revealed after the last hurdle of financing for the project is cleared, he adds. "All the banks are interested in financing green energy projects, especially if it is a good one," Ben-Dov says. The problem is not getting the money, but getting an acceptable interest rate, he explains. Ben-Dov is confident a financing deal will be agreed in the next month or two.

Afcon is also developing projects elsewhere, but says bureaucracy, one of the main problems for wind power development in Israel, means that the going is slow. But Israel's government is learning about wind power and the more it learns the more favourable its attitude becomes. "If you would have talked to the ministry of infrastructure a year ago, they would have said the potential for wind was 400-500 MW," says Mei Golan's Harel. "Now they will tell you it is about 2500 MW."

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