Plugged in: The Israel-Bergen tech connection
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Plugged in: The Israel-Bergen tech connection

Bergen man starts Israeli energy company

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The Rosenblatt family – from left, Shari Gersten and Arielle, Zeke, and David Rosenblatt – at the June 5 opening of Israel’s first solar field. photos courtesy David Rosenblatt

If a power failure darkens the United States, juice is available from Canada. If the lights go off in Kuwait, it can count on the pan-Arabic grid. But Israel, says Tenafly resident David Rosenblatt, is an “energy island” that cannot borrow electricity from its neighbors.

That, and Israel’s abundant sunshine, made the Jewish state – whose power needs are growing 5 to 8 percent per year – the perfect venue for Rosenblatt and two partners to launch Arava Power Company in 2006. Arava just made history by opening Israel’s first solar field on June 5 at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev desert.

Producing 4.95 megawatts, the field can generate enough electricity for 7,000 to 8,000 homes in Israel. “We believe that fully 10 to 20 percent of Israel’s power can come from solar energy in the next decade, if the government lets the industry meet its potential,” says Rosenblatt, who has flown to Israel in recent years “too many times to count.”

Arava has applied for licenses to go ahead with some 40 projects, which would generate more than 400 megawatts of power for Israel in as little as five years from now. Over the next couple of years, it will build a 40-megawatt plant to light up a third of the Red Sea resort city of Eilat.

The 46-year-old Rosenblatt grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Penn State, Northwestern Law School, and Harvard Business School.

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The founders of Arava Power – Yosef Abramowitz, Ed Hofland, and David Rosenblatt – at the February groundbreaking for the construction of the field.

As a child, he spent time at Kibbutz Ginosar in the Galilee, and at 16 spent a summer on a moshav (cooperative farm), returning to take part in an international study program in Jerusalem during his college years. Starting out as a lawyer in project infrastructure finance, he began wondering why the many energy deals he was brokering weren’t more centered on clean energy.

“In 2006, I saw the world moving to renewable energy and I wanted to get there,” he says. “I got introduced to Ed Hofland at Kibbutz Ketura and Yosef Abramowitz, and we created Arava Power.”

At the time, Israel had no relevant land-use, tax, or energy policies, and the Israel Electric Company had never contracted with an independent producer before. The enterprising trio had to cut through red tape at 23 government ministries, in addition to local Negev councils, before it could get the project off the ground.

“Our real accomplishment was getting through the Israeli bureaucracy,” Rosenblatt says. “What we have achieved really represents a breakthrough not only in solar energy but in re-imagining the potential for Israel to become energy-independent.”

A resident of Tenafly since 2004, Rosenblatt was a fellow in the Russell Berrie Leadership Program of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and is actively involved in the Bergen County Jewish community. He serves on the executive committee of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and is a board member of Temple Emanu-El in Closter. He and his wife, Shari Gersten, are the parents of twins Arielle and Zeke, now finishing fourth grade at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.

Kibbutz Ketura is a significant location in his family lore. It was at this kibbutz, founded in 1973 by members of the Conservative youth movement Young Judaea, that Rosenblatt’s brother met his future wife. And it’s also where his brother-in-law, Aaron Horowitz, got an electric shock in 1982 while working on a project being supervised by none other than Ed Hofland (Horowitz, fortunately, fully recovered).

“So I’m actually the third member of my family to create electricity at Ketura,” jokes Rosenblatt, who has a hand in renewable energy projects in other parts of the world as well.

All kidding aside, Ketura was optimally located for the solar field. Land in the Negev is relatively vast and sparsely populated, enjoying strong sunshine all year round.

“In most parts of world with that type of desert sun, nobody lives there, so you have to build transmission lines like they’ve done in California’s solar fields,” Rosenblatt says. “In Israel they do have those lines installed already, so all you have to do is put solar panels in and plug into the grid. We decided to make it happen.”

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