McKinley discusses trip to Israel, natural gas

WHEELING – Much like the Ohio Valley, Israel is just beginning to realize the possibilities of tapping its vast natural gas reserves, Rep. David McKinley said.

McKinley, R-Wheeling, and Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, Ohio, recently returned from a late-February fact-finding trip to Israel. Highlights of the trip included a tour of a new, state-of-the-art natural-gas fired power plant – spurred by the development of a massive natural gas field beneath the Mediterranean Sea – and a 30-minute conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With the Ohio Valley in the epicenter of the Marcellus and Utica shale rush, McKinley said he saw plenty that reminded him of home during his overseas trip. But he said unlike America, Israeli electricity producers aren’t operating under a cloud of uncertainty due to tightening – and, according to some, impossible to achieve – regulations on carbon emissions, as he learned during his conversation with Netanyahu.

“His point was, essentially … that they don’t want to have environmental issues cause their (electricity) rates to go up,” McKinley said of Netanyahu. “They’re not necessarily embracing all of (the Obama) administration’s environmental policy.”

The power plant, located in Ashkelon, is relatively small, at about 800 megawatts of generating capacity – about half that of American Electric Power’s Mitchell plant, south of Moundsville. It uses a series of 12 small boilers that can be taken into or out of service based on demand.

There are questions about efficiency, McKinley said, but he called the plant a “very interesting facility” that may bear watching as regulations on carbon emissions make it more difficult to burn coal in America.

“It’s just coming online, just going onto the grid,” McKinley said of the Israeli plant. “We’ve got to see over a year’s time. It looks good on paper.”

Natural gas-fired power is nothing new for Israel, but the recent boom there has allowed the country to decrease its reliance on Egyptian natural gas, the supply of which has been threatened by Hamas attacks on pipelines.