Locally Developed Sustainable Energy Transitions Strengthen Palestinian Communities

By Husam Tubail, UNDP Environment and Climate Change Portfolio Manager and Yasser Khaldi, UNDP National Consultant in Sustainable Energy Transition

March 23, 2022

The sustainable energy transition is among the top priorities for countries worldwide to mitigate the impact of climate change. In the State of Palestine, the sustainability transition is a priority because it increases access to energy to empower Palestinian communities, especially marginalized localities who suffer from energy insecurity because of adverse geopolitical reasons.

Even though renewable energy systems can increase the resilience of Palestinian communities and improve their socio-economic status, local government bodies (LGUs) governing marginalized communities do not possess the technical or financial means to develop renewable energy projects.

Stemming from research, extensive fieldwork, and in-depth experience in the Palestinian energy sector, UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, along with the Palestinian Ministry of Local government (MoLG) and Palestine Energy Authority (PENRA), partnered together to establish a sustainable energy transition programme. The initiative focuses on scaling solar energy solutions to uplift energy security, economic activities, and sustainable urban development by reducing LGUs' risk profile and facilitating public-private partnerships. The pilot initiative, with support from the Japan climate faculty project funded by Sweden, supports marginalized communities who suffer from energy insecurity due to conflict and injustices.

De-risking to Leverage Local Resources

Approximately 130 LGUs are classified as marginalized communities. A UNDP/PAPP survey showed that more than 80 communities have vast resources such as land, access to the electrical grid, and demand, which are the main raw elements to establish renewable energy projects. At the same time, these LGUs are perceived as risky by investors from the private sector (responsible for the majority of renewable investments) because of their old infrastructure, inconsistent payments to bills, poor collection rate, and lack of adherence to the laws and regulations.

Accordingly, UNDP's concept of de-risking emerged to uplift the performance and capability of marginalized LGUs to be capable of leveraging their resources to build solar energy power plants as a catalyst for sustainable urban development.

Successful Strategies in Qabalan Municipality’s Pilot Project

After a rigorous and comprehensive selection process, Qabalan Municipality in Nablus Governorate was among two municipalities for the pilot phase. UNDP/PAPP, in cooperation with MoLG and PENRA, provided a comprehensive technical assistance package for Qabalan Municipality. This included diagnosing their electrical grid, identifying low-value agricultural land that will not be utilized for urban expansion in the upcoming two decades, and providing an initial solar energy conceptual design. The technical support team concluded that a 1.8-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant could be built and integrated into Qabalan's energy supply. Afterwards, UNDP/PAPP supported the municipality to prepare an investment template to attract offers and facilitated the negotiation and partnership agreement with the private sector by creating three business models that streamline the commercial and institutional relationship between the private and public sectors. Subsequently, Qabalan Municipality reached an agreement and signed a 25 yearlong partnership agreement with one of the leading regional renewable energy developers in the State of Palestine. The agreement states that the municipality is responsible for the land provision, granting access to the grid and purchasing and distributing solar electricity at a rate 33% less than the rate of electricity imports, hence, improving the fiscal situation of the municipality. The solar station is near completion, and the electricity generated is expected to benefit more than 8500 inhabitants during the day (generation hours).

UNDP/PAPP released a grant funded by the government of Japan to conduct grid enhancement interventions for Qabalan's electric grid to complement the solar station development. The grant covered the construction of the medium voltage line responsible for evacuating generated electricity from the station to the distribution network and improving the electrical condition in some parts of the town to uplift the electrical performance to Qabalan's citizens. It is worth mentioning that the second pilot phase is conducted in Arrabah Municipality, where the municipality and private sector collaborated to implement a 1-megawatt solar power plant via a build-operate-transfer business model expected to be completed in July 2022.

A Catalyst for Sustainable Development

As the pilot project is approaching its completion, many valuable lessons are learned. Engaging LGUs in the sustainable energy transition can directly achieve and accelerate SGDs at the local level. First, instead of providing LGUs with a complete grant to implement solar energy projects, UNDP's logic is to deploy grants to reduce LGUs risks and equip them to attract, cooperate, and unlock private sector investments (Goal 17). For example, UNDP/PAPP study shows a 3 million dollars grant can achieve only a 3-megawatts solar station for one LGU. However, when the same amount is only used for de-risking interventions such as off-site infrastructure, it can benefit 15 LGUs to unlock 20 million dollars from the private sector to implement about 20-25 megawatts of solar PV stations.

Second, LGUs' agency of producing electricity from renewable sources can enhance energy security. Simultaneously, LGUs can improve their financial situation to provide better services for their citizens, create new job opportunities, and attract commercial and industrial activities needing immediate electricity supply, hence locally contributing to SGDs Goals 8 9).

Third, LGUs engagement can enable and accelerate the sustainable energy transition by achieving the national renewable energy strategy and reinforcing governance in sustainability. At the same time, engaging LGUs can reduce injustice and marginalization as renewable energy projects bring partnerships grants and improve the fiscal situation and services.

Forth, implementing locally developed solar power plants as a catalyst for urban development can directly tackle Goal 7 ​​by providing a clean and sustainable source of electricity. Additionally, it addresses Goal 13 by mitigating the adverse impact of climate change by reducing CO2 emissions.