Who opposes the Golan Heights wind farm, and why?

Druze protest against ARAN wind farm  credit: Israel Police spokesperson
Druze protest against ARAN wind farm credit: Israel Police spokesperson

Protesting Druze residents have brought to national attention the controversy over wind turbines on the northern Golan Heights.

All of Israel was made aware of the wind energy ventures on the Golan Heights yesterday when thousands of Druze demonstrated violently yesterday against the ARAN (Hebrew acronym for "Clean Wind Energy") project for constructing a wind farm for producing electricity. Twenty-seven people were hurt in the demonstrations: five demonstrators were severely injured, seventeen policemen sustained light injuries, and the remainder were protesters with wounds of one kind or another.

The agreement between the Ministry of Defense and ARAN, a subsidiary of Energix Renewable Energies Ltd. (TASE: ENRG), that permits the project subject to the maintenance of Israel’s security interests, was signed in 2021. A few months ago, the project received court approval, and now work on it has begun, setting off a storm of protest by the Druze population.

The widespread protests raise many questions. Here are some of the answers.

How did the project come about?

The project began as a joint venture between Druze residents of the northern Golan Heights and Energix Renewable Energies, who wanted to advance jointly a national infrastructure project for producing electricity from wind power.

What is the scope of the project?

The project consists of 21 wind turbines, with an output of 104 megawatts. Its cost is estimated at NIS 700 million. ARAN is intended to provide power to 50,000 households for twenty years. The project involves clearing mines left since the Six Day War of 1967 from 170 dunams (42.5 acres) of land, and restoring the land to agricultural use for the owners. It also includes power transmission infrastructure, and will provide hundreds of jobs during construction, and dozens of jobs during the period of operation. It will be connected to the national power grid by underground cable.

Who is Energix?

Energix Renewable Energies is a publicly traded company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and is included in the Tel Aviv 35 Index of leading stocks. Its share price fell 3.23% yesterday in the wake of the disturbances on the Golan Heights.

Energix operates in Israel, Poland, and, chiefly, in the US, where it has a portfolio of renewable energy projects amounting to 224 megawatts, with projects amounting to a further 415 megawatts under construction. In Israel, if focuses on solar energy. In 2022, its net profit was NIS 237 million, and at the end of last year it estimated that within a year it would have projects in commercial operation or at the end of construction with a total output of 1,400 megawatts.

How much will electricity from the project cost?

Under the agreement with the Israel Public Utility Authority for Electricity, the tariff will be NIS 0.293 per kilowatt-hour for twenty years.

How much does the project bring in to the state?

Energix paid the state NIS 100 million for the project. The state incurred costs of NIS 50 million, which included NIS 15 million betterment levy paid to Druze local authorities in the region.

What benefit do local residents derive from the project?

The landowners with whom agreements have been signed are assured rent totaling millions of shekels annually, for twenty years. In addition, Energix plans to improve roads and infrastructure in the area, including the electricity grid. The company is committed to extensive mine clearance, and, as with any infrastructure project, it will pay arnona (local property taxes), which will benefit Druze residents of the Golan Heights.

Where is the project located?

The project is located east and south east of Majdal Shams, the main Druze town on the Golan Heights, on the southern foothills of Mount Hermon, near Israel’s border with Syria.

Why the opposition?

The ARAN project is exposed to criticism from three directions: environmental organizations criticize power production from wind energy because the wind turbines are lethal to birds; there are energy experts who oppose abandonment of fossil fuels and dependence on renewable energy sources, which they say are insufficiently reliable; and local Druze residents, some of whom claim that the people from whom the land for the project was leased are not the true owners, and some of whom see themselves as Syrian (the Golan Heights were conquered from Syria in the Six Day War) and exploited the demonstrations against the project to run riot.

Last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, under the previous minister, Tamar Zandberg, called for the suspension of wind turbine projects for five years. At that time, fifteen turbine sites with an aggregate output of 600 megawatts were planned for construction. For the sake of comparison, peak consumption on the hot Friday three weeks ago, when about 300,000 homes in Israel experienced power cuts, was 12,549 megawatts. In other words, wind energy will not be Israel’s savior in switching to renewable energy sources. Zandberg wanted to stop the project because of the severe harm to birdlife. Israel is on a global north-south bird migration path, and wind turbines slay thousands of birds.

What is the state’s solution for protecting the birds?

In the statutory hearings and the approval by the National Infrastructures Committee, Energix undertook to institute an operational regime that would include special radar for identifying the approach of birds to the turbines. The National Infrastructures Committee also stipulated that Energix must station bird observation posts. When the observers and the radar detect birds approaching, the turbines are meant to stop, in order to avoid hurting them. The committee will monitor implementation of its instructions from the construction stage.

What is Energix telling the residents?

"Energix extends its hand to the Druze residents of the northern Golan Heights," Ariel Yotzer, CEO of Energix Israel, told "Globes". "The company wants to construct the project with cooperation and coordination, calls for calm, and is sure that the many benefits, the large financial investments that Energix is making in the area, will yield a better electricity grid, and a livelihood and a flourishing economy for the northern Golan Heights."

What do the courts have to say?

Druze residents on the Golan Heights filed a court petition in April 2022, claiming that the actual owners of the land for the project were not the people with whom Energix had dealt, but the court refused to issue an injunction to stop the ARAN project.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 22, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Druze protest against ARAN wind farm  credit: Israel Police spokesperson
Druze protest against ARAN wind farm credit: Israel Police spokesperson
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