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Israel’s energy minister unveiled an ambitious plan to end all coal-fired production of electricity and halt imports of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2030 in a bid to eradicate most of the country’s air pollution.
Instead, Israel will draw most of its power from vast natural gas fields in the Mediterranean, Yuval Steinitz, minister of national infrastructure, energy, and water resources, told Bloomberg Environment in an April 16 interview.
Within the next six months, Steinitz will submit a plan for government approval to ban the large-scale use of coal, gasoline, and diesel except in emergencies.
“Coal is killing us. Air pollution is killing us,” Steinitz said, citing an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report that found 2,500 Israelis died each year from pollution. “Hundreds of thousands” more Israelis suffer from pollution-related disease, he said.
Gabi Ben-Harush, director of the Israel Road Transport Board in Tel Aviv, said the notion of eradicating gasoline and diesel vehicle imports by 2030 and switching to compressed natural gas-fueled trucks is far-fetched. The board lobbies for the nation’s road haulage industry, representing more than 800 Israeli transportation companies.
“I want a document in my hands that says if they haven’t set up 25 CNG refueling stations in the next three years, this entire issue will be shelved,” Ben-Harush said by phone April 17.
“First, you have to set up a network of authorized maintenance garages. I can’t recommend haulage contractors switching to gas and investing millions. What do I do with all the low-emission heavy vehicles I still have? A vehicle’s life with a company is an average of 10 years. What do I do with all the equipment and spare parts? Will the state compensate me?”
Ben-Harush also said the country’s new heavy trucks meet stringent European emission standards.
“They don’t pollute,” he said of the trucks. “At the end of the day, they [Israeli officials] just want to sell the natural gas.”
Soon after becoming minister three years ago, Steinitz halted plans for a new coal-powered station and ordered it to be built to run natural gas turbines instead. Now he is proposing the shuttering of Israel’s remaining coal-fired stations and ordered that all new plants will run on either gas or renewable energy.
By the end of 2018, coal will produce only 25 percent of Israel’s electricity, falling to zero by 2030, when natural gas will be used for 80 percent to 85 percent of the country’s electricity production and renewable energy for the remaining 15 percent to 20 percent, Steinitz said. Today, renewables account for just 3.5 percent, he said.
“We decided that from 2030, Israel will be totally clear from any polluting kind of fuel, both in electricity production and transportation,” Steinitz said.
“All our cars from 2030 onward that will be imported will be either electric cars or—in the case mainly of heavy vehicles like trucks and buses—run on compressed natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells.”
“The new plan we are going to submit to the government will fix this target and say that by 2030 we won’t allow any more to import gasoline or diesel cars into Israel. When this will happen, Israel will get totally rid of any kind of air pollution,” he said.
Environmental activists largely welcomed the minister’s plan.
“The direction is right. Coal is the worst fuel used by Israel,” said Arye Vanger, head of the air quality and energy project at Adam, Teva V’Din–Israeli Union for Environmental Defense in Tel Aviv. “If we use more renewable energies and natural gas which is now from Israeli origin, we will be less dependent on foreign fuels, we increase our energy security.”
Israel’s use of renewables should be more than 20 percent, he added.
While gas produces less pollution, it does not eradicate it completely, said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East in Tel Aviv. The group brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists to promote sustainable development and advance Middle East peace efforts.
Steinitz was centrally involved in finalizing Israel’s offshore natural gas exploration deals which involved a high court battle over the tax to be levied on the producers, “so he does have a self-interest here for his good name and political career to see natural gas strongly integrated into the economy and the electricity sector,” Bromberg said by phone Apr. 17.
Israel does not currently have enough plans to meet its target of 17 percent electricity production through renewables under the Paris Climate Agreement, he said.
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