September 14, 2017

Israeli environment ministry recommends scaling down wind turbine plans in Galilee

Zafrir Rinat | Haaretz | Sep 13, 2017 |

Three companies have been told either to curb their plans to build wind turbines in the Upper Galilee or build them somewhere else, after the Environmental Protection Ministry decided that wind farms not only create noise and mar the landscape, but put birds’ and bats’ lives in danger.

The ministry delivered its opinion to the Northern District Planning and Building Committee ahead of a debate on the wind-turbine plan next week. If the committee adopts the plan despite the ministry’s objections, the process will advance to the next stage: an invitation for the public to comment.

The three renewable energy companies plan to set up more than 70 wind turbines west of the town of Kisra-Sumei in the middle of the Upper Galilee. The company Zodiac plans to build 34 large turbines and 31 midsize ones, generating 118 megawatts of power, though its plans have changed often and the current numbers aren’t final. Still, the biggest turbines would be 185 meters (607 feet) high, the tallest in Israel.

Meanwhile, the people in the Galilee seem reluctant to let wind turbines on their patch, amid fears about the noise and marred landscape.

The ministry’s opinion relies on a paper by the companies themselves. The ministry says 13 of the turbines would be less than 500 meters from homes, which conflicts with the recommendations of both the environmental protection and health ministries because of the noise.

Another issue is that the turbines could block firefighting planes. The companies’ paper suggests that such planes would have to keep 100 meters from the turbines, but the ministry says 500 meters is more realistic. That of course would severely impair the planes’ ability to fight fire. In the event of a fire, the turbines might have to shut down for the planes to do their job.

The plan would also have a “dramatic effect” on bird and bat populations in the Galilee, the ministry writes, adding that the turbines would be likely to kill hundreds of birds and bats a year.

It recommends that the turbine plans be dropped in areas where birds would most be in danger; also, mechanisms would be installed to stop the turbines when birds are nearby.

The optics are also an issue. “The size of the turbines and their high density, under the topographical conditions, means that there would hardly be a point in the area from which they could not be seen,” the ministry writes.

Since Zodiac’s plan is only one of three, the ministry is urging the planning authorities to consider the total number of turbines that the Galilee can tolerate. It also recommends scaling back plans to build turbines near the Mount Meron Nature Reserve.

Zodiac said that it was advancing a wind energy project based on the planning authorities’ policy, and that it obeys all the directives it receives from the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

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