TEL AVIV — After the final breakdown of the election results were confirmed, it was clear who sent Benjamin Netanyahu back for another term as prime minister: the people of the so-called "periphery" of Israel, far away from the urban centers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Support from small towns and distant suburbs had more to do with the center-right leader's striking reelection than from any other part of the country.
The numbers are clear. The Likud was the biggest party in most towns in the Negev and Galilee. Additionally, the parties that were planning to form a coalition with the Likud were also among the big winners in these regions.
It is not that others had ignored these parts of Israel, from the ultra-orthodox “Yahad” to the Joint List of the Arab parties, to the moderate factions, everyone wanted to show that the interests of the periphery were at the top of the list of priorities, even though most agreed it was mostly a political calculation by all.
Now that the campaign is over, and the talks about the 2016 budget, coalition agreements and priorities take place behind closed doors, the moment has come for the winners to repay their debts, and the periphery will be at the center of the legislative agenda.
If you build it ...
First, the government must bring back the "periphery grant," those $20,000 stipends given to young couples who buy their first apartment in remote locations. This grant was one of the first cuts of the outgoing finance minister Yair Lapid.
Even though he promised compensation in the form of a cut on sales tax, every young couple in the periphery will agree that it is better to be given a grant than a controversial plan that has yet been passed.
It is true that this grant hardly pushed a wave of couples to flee Tel Aviv to go settle in smaller cities, but it definitely allowed the people from the periphery to move in order to look for an affordable housing.
Secondly, the transportation reform in the north and south of Israel has to go forward and even to go further than previously planned. The roads built during the past government made Haifa more accessible from remote cities. Some of these cities saw themselves transformed from an aging industrial town to a young, more modern center.
In the absence of affordable apartments in the center and the lack of desirable jobs in the periphery, reducing the transportation time considerably from the periphery to the big cities must be a primary and fast-tracked national mission.
Still, the main issue in the periphery is the lack of employment. The Negev and Galilee regions have long been the traditional core of Israeli industry, and even some of the country's newer high-tech companies. But it's been too long since they have seen real economic growth.
Indeed Israel is a small country, where every place is rather close to everywhere else. Surely in any developed country, the big cities are a magnet for people from the periphery, but in Israel it became a far too pervasive reality that only by moving to the center could one achieve social mobility and economic well-being. It is bad for both the periphery and for the center, and unjust for the people left behind.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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