Tom Ridge: Israel's renewable energy know-how among world's best

"In order to ensure that sustainable and safe technologies are developed in Israel, it's necessary to maintain a suitable balance between the state and the market."

In an interview with "Globes", former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge says, "The socioeconomic and environmental needs of the 21st century require innovation and energy independence, which can be found in renewable energy. This is one of the important transitions that we can undertake from the industrial era to the green era."

The winner from among the two consortia bidding for the government renewable energy incubator tender is due to be picked within a few months. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor will provide the Negev incubator NIS 57 million over five years, which the tender winner will match, giving the incubator a total budget of NIS 114 million.

The incubator is an important project, as a glance at the participants in the tender demonstrates. The first consortium, called Sderot 21, comprises Baran Group (TASE: BRAN; Pink Sheets:BRANF), Bar Ilan University, entrepreneur Shai Beilis, Sderot Economic Corporation, Notre Dame University, and several foreign entities, including Tom Ridge's Ridge Global and Pace Global Energy Services.

The second consortium, called "The Arava Renewable Energy Technology Center", comprises Ormat Industries Ltd. (TASE: ORMT), Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT), Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Direct Insurance - Financial Investments Ltd. (TASE: DIFI), ProSeed Venture Capital Fund (TASE:PRSD), Britain's Consensus Business Group , the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Initiative, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Shibolet & Co. Advocates & Notaries, and other parties.

"I have no doubt that the countries that support renewable energy technology R&D will become less dependent on polluting fossil fuels," said Ridge Global CEO Tom Ridge in explaining the rationale behind the promotion of R&D centers such as the one planned for the Negev.

Ridge has extensive experience in establishing technology centers. He was a co-founder of technology incubators in the US and set up the first technology incubators association in the US back in the early 1980s. He is a close friend of former US President George W. Bush, and help Bush on his election campaigns. Bush later appointed Ridge as the first Secretary of Homeland Security in the aftermath of September 11. Ridge also took part in setting up ventures and joint research centers for the private and government markets, and research institutes where environment and technology interfaces.

Ridge said, "Countries that will know how to produce the most from the power of partnership between the state and the private sector, reduce the costs of renewable energy, create jobs with added value, and become export leaders. Renewable energy isn't another discovery and research field, it must be an applied science that will lead to energy solutions to guarantee our lives in the near and distant future.

"Globes": What is the connection between you and the consortium that is promoting an initiative in a small country like Israel?

Ridge: "When we were approached about Sderot 21, we were invited together with Pace Global, and we rapidly decided that the venture is a unique opportunity. The ability of a consortium comprised mainly of industry and academe makes it possible to establish in Israel a cluster of innovative technologies industries. This could be an entity with significant economic influence on the region, in addition to the business potential it reflects outside of Israel, since foreign parties are involved."

Ridge's comments could be a point for reflection, given the new law for the encouragement of capital investment now being written, which offers fewer incentives for foreign investors.

What do you think about Israel's potential in the global cleantech market?

"20 years ago, when I was a member of the US House of Representatives, I made my first visit to Israel, and I was charmed by your growth in development and application of solar technologies. It seemed to be a step with vision, and it's incredible that it was done by the country to create an infrastructure to enable the private market to concentrate on renewable energy. The know-how accumulated since then in the renewable energy industry is one of the best I know of in the world.

"In order to ensure that sustainable and safe technologies are developed in Israel, it's necessary to maintain a suitable balance between the state and the market. The concept of state investment in infrastructures, support to encourage investment by private parties in technologies and business opportunities can achieve the right balance."

Since Israeli renewable energy legislation is being prepared, do you have any advice for the Israeli regulators on what to do?

"Israel should develop the best model for it, so I won't give my opinion on this or that structure. I only hope that the model that Israel chooses will maximize participation, expedite the penetration of new renewable energy technologies into the market, and create a more competitive and accessible environment.

"This is an industry in which Israel can take the lead as inventors and as thought leaders in fields that are important not just to the country itself, but to all countries aiming for a greener and economically stronger world."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on August 9, 2010

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010

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