Background Archive

Aug 22 2014

Large Dams Just Aren’t Worth the Cost


By Jacques Leslie

Sunday Review

New York Times

Thayer Scudder, the world’s leading authority on the impact of dams on poor people, has changed his mind about dams.

A frequent consultant on large dam projects, Mr. Scudder held out hope through most of his 58-year career that the poverty relief delivered by a properly constructed and managed dam would outweigh the social and environmental damage it caused. Now, at age 84, he has concluded that large dams not only aren’t worth their cost, but that many currently under construction “will have disastrous environmental and socio-economic consequences,” as he wrote in a recent email.

Mr. Scudder, an emeritus anthropology professor at the California Institute of Technology, describes his disillusionment with dams as gradual. He was a dam proponent when he began his first research project in 1956, documenting the impact of forced resettlement on 57,000 Tonga people in the Gwembe Valley of present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe. Construction of the Kariba Dam, which relied on what was then the largest loan in the World Bank’s history, required the Tonga to move from their ancestral homes along the Zambezi River to infertile land downstream. Mr. Scudder has been tracking their disintegration ever since.

Once cohesive and self-sufficient, the Tonga are troubled by intermittent hunger, rampant alcoholism and astronomical unemployment. Desperate for income, some have resorted to illegal drug cultivation and smuggling, elephant poaching, pimping and prostitution. Villagers still lack electricity.

Mr. Scudder’s most recent stint as a consultant, on the Nam Theun 2 Dam in Laos, delivered his final disappointment. He and two fellow advisers supported the project because it required the dam’s funders to carry out programs that would leave people displaced by the dam in better shape than before the project started. But the dam was finished in 2010, and the programs’ goals remain unmet. Meanwhile, the dam’s three owners are considering turning over all responsibilities to the Laotian government — “too soon,” Mr. Scudder said in an interview. “The government wants to build 60 dams over the next 20 or 30 years, and at the moment it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with environmental and social impacts for any single one of them.

“Nam Theun 2 confirmed my longstanding suspicion that the task of building a large dam is just too complex and too damaging to priceless natural resources,” he said. He now thinks his most significant accomplishment was not improving a dam, but stopping one: He led a 1992 study that helped prevent construction of a dam that would have harmed Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the world’s last great wetlands.

Part of what moved Mr. Scudder to go public with his revised assessment was the corroboration he found in a stunning Oxford University study published in March in Energy Policy. The study, by Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn, draws upon cost statistics for 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007. Without even taking into account social and environmental impacts, which are almost invariably negative and frequently vast, the study finds that “the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.” Read More

May 24 2013

In the Land of the Wild Boys


Andri Snær Magnason

First published in Grapevine. Based on a 2010 article entitled “Í landi hinna klikkuðu karlmanna.” (“In the Land of the Mad Men”). Translated in part by Haukur S. Magnússon.

After the election, we see the old parties of economic mass destruction are coming back to power. Giving enormous promises of easy money to be wrestled from evil vulture funds, debt relief and tax reduction, The Progressive Party doubled in size after a few years of hardship. There is a jolly good feeling between the two young new leaders of a brave new Iceland, and when a radio host called them up and offered to play them a request, they asked for Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys.’ I Googled the lyrics, not quite remembering the lines, and got a nice chill down my back:

Wild boys fallen far from glory
Reckless and so hungered
On the razors edge you trail
Because there’s murder by the roadside
In a sore afraid new world

They tried to break us,
Looks like they’ll try again

Sounds quite grim. This, coupled with the new government’s announcement that it would be effectively dismantling the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources and that there will be no Minister for the Environment, gave me a strange flashback feeling. I decided to revisit the state of mind that we used to call normal in 2006. When the economic policy, the energy policy, the expansion of our towns, the mortgages on our homes—almost all aspects of our daily life had become totally mad. This is not my own diagnosis; if you search the homepage of the IMF for the phrase “Collective Madness,” you’ll find this:

“’Iceland, in the decade and a half leading up to the crisis, was an example of collective madness,’ said Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, a remark that elicited spontaneous applause from the more than 300 participants, many of them Icelandic policymakers, academics, and members of the public.”

In our daily lives, we usually sense what is normal and what is over the top. Sometimes the discourse will blind us; PR and propaganda can create a kind of newspeak. It can be a good exercise to try to talk about things in a foreign language, to view them in a new light. As an Icelander, you could for instance try to tell someone from another country that Iceland’s government sold one state bank and received payment in the form of a loan from another state bank—and vice versa. That the state banks were thereby handed to men that were closely connected to the then-reigning political parties. The manager of one of the parties became head of one of the banks’ board of directors, while the other party’s former Minister of Trade belonged to the group that was given the other bank. That man had access to every bit of inside information about the bank’s standing.

In the meantime, this former Minister of Trade became Central Bank Manager. He went to the US and made Alcoa an offer that the company could not refuse. He had thus set in motion the largest-scale construction project in Icelandic history, greatly increasing economic activity in Iceland—a grand boon for the bank he just finished selling to himself.

If you tell this story in a foreign language, people shake their heads. They gape in disbelief. They use words like “corruption” and “mafia.” They exclaim, full of disbelief and even disappointment, “no, not in Scandinavia!”

THE ACCEPTED INSANITY

It is insane to expand a banking system by tenfold in eight years. We know that now. It isn’t technically possible to grow all the knowledge and experience needed to build up and manage such a contraption in such a short time. Not even by shoving an entire generation through business school. It is impossible.

But the megalomania was not just confined to the banking sector. Energy production in Iceland was doubled from 2002–2007, when the huge Kárahnjúkar dam was built in the eastern part of the highlands—to serve one single Alcoa smelting plant. The energy it produces, about 650MW annually, is enough to power a city of one million people. Doubling the energy production in a developed country over a five-year period is not only unheard of, but it would also be considered ridiculous in all of our neighbouring nations. Most industrialised states increase their energy production by around 2–3% annually. Doubling it would be unthinkable. It has been proven again and again that gargantuan investments generally destroy more than they create. Read More

Jul 25 2012
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Alcoa’s Power Executive – Who is Influencing Iceland?


Aluminium giant Alcoa is one of the most powerful and influential companies in Iceland with it’s poster-child Fjarðaál greenfield1 smelter in Reyðarfjörður, and it’s millions invested in the now failed geothermal smelter project at Bakki, Húsavík. Alcoa’s annual revenue was almost 20 times larger than the Icelandic GDP in 2010 ($21Billion2 versus $1.2 Billion3). Giving it considerable international influence and the potential for frightening leverage in Iceland.They are also becoming one of the biggest lobbyists in Greenland, with eight employees pushing their mega smelter and dam project on this tiny nation.

But who are the faces behind Alcoa? From big pharmaceutical chiefs, to Bilderberg attendees, Iraq profiteers and a Mexican president, Alcoa’s board remains one of the most influential and shadowy of the mining and metals companies. Use the links to Powerbase’s profiles in this article to find out more.

Current Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld has been an Alcoa board member since 2003. He is also a director of Bayer, the pharmaceuticals and chemical company which grew out of the Nazi company IG Farben, responsible for the medical experiments at Auschwitz. Bayer is now famous for it’s GM and crop science business and was named one of 10 Worst Companies of the Year by Multinational Monitor in 2001. Kleinfeld is associated with all three of the most influential and private ‘global planning groups’. He attended the Bilderberg conference in 2008 and is a member of the Trilateral Commission and Director of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. He is also a Director of the Brookings Institution, one of the USA’s biggest think tanks, and the third most cited in Congress.

Kleinfeld was CEO of Siemens from 2005 to 2007 after spending 20 years with the company. He resigned amid a corruption scandal which saw the US Department of Justice investigating the company for charges of using slush funds of €426m (£291m) to obtain foreign contracts, and funding a trade union to counter existing Union action against them. Kleinfeld resigned just hours before the news broke to the media. In 2009, after a lengthy investigation, Kleinfeld and four other executives were forced to pay large compensation sums. Kleinfeld allegedly paid $2 million of the $18 million total collected from the five, though he still denied wrongdoing. Kleinfeld is also on the boards of the finance giant Citigroup and the U.S Chamber of Commerce.

Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has been on Alcoa’s board since 2002, and chairs the Public Issues Committee. Zedillo is a prominent economist and another member of the big three elite think-tanks sitting on the World Economic Forum and the Trilateral Commission with Kleinfeld, and attending the Bilderberg conference in 1999. Like Kleinfeld he is also a director of Citigroup. Zedillo also sits of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American foreign policy think tank based in New York City who carry out closed debates and discussions and publish the journal Foreign Affairs. CFR played a significant part in encouraging the war on Iraq, and helped plan it’s economic and political aims alongside the US Government, particularly how to gain oil contracts after the war. He directs the Club de Madrid, a right-wing/neoliberal focused group of former government officials, think tankers and journalists involved in pushing reactionary policies to terrorism (referring to the Madrid bombings).

Mr. Zedillo was Mexican president from 1994-2000. He was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan to be the United Nations Special Envoy for the 2005 World Summit, and chaired the World Bank’s High Level Commission on Modernization of World Bank Group Governance in 2008. He is a director of JPMorgan-Chase, Proctor and Gamble, BP, Rolls Royce and an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He directs the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University, which puts out influential reports and papers edited by him.

A fellow member of the Council on Foreign Relations is Alcoa board member E.Stanley O’Neal. O’Neal is a Harvard graduate and investment banker who served as CEO of Merrill Lynch from 2002 to 2007 and is a director of the New York Stock Exchange (now NYSE Euronext), the Nasdaq Stock Market and BlackRock – a key investor in the mining and metals industry. According to Forbes he was awarded $22.41 million in 2006. Mr O’Neal is also a trustee of another shady organisation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private group led by John J. Hamre, former deputy secretary of defence which ‘provides world leaders with strategic insights on — and policy solutions to — current and emerging global issues’. CSIS provided propaganda materials used by the CIA to destabilise the Government of Chile in the run up to the 1973 coup.

A third Council on Foreign Relations member sits on Alcoa’s board. James W. Owens is Chairman of the Business Council of the CFR, CEO and Executive Chairman of Caterpillar from 2004 to 2010 and Alcoa board member since 2005. Caterpillar are famous for their tendency to profit from war-induced contracts including in Israel and Iraq, just the sort of thing that the Council on Foreign Relations are interested in. Owens is also a director of the International Business Machines Corporation and Morgan Stanley and a senior advisor to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, a global asset manager working in private equity and fixed income.

Indian mega magnate Ratan Tata has been a director of Alcoa since 2007 and is currently a member of the International Committee and Public Issues Committee. He chairs Tata Sons, holding company for the Tata Group, the family business which is one of India’s largest business conglomerates including telecoms, transport, tea and now one of the biggest steel companies in the world after they bought Corus outright in 2007. As well as his directorships of most of the Tata companies, he is also a a former director of the Reserve Bank of India, and advisor to NYSE Euronext (the New York Stock Exchange), and JP Morgan – one of the largest shareholders of the London Metal Exchange who set metal prices worldwide and enable banks to stockpile and futures trade aluminium. Mr Tata is also trustee of Cornell, Southern California, Ohio State, and Warwick Universities, a director of the Ford Foundation and a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain.

A fellow member of the Ford Foundation, and Saving Iceland favourite most-wanted, is Kathryn Fuller. Ms Fuller chaired the Ford Foundation from 2004 to 2010 and has been a trustee since 1994. However she is most famed for her contradictory positions as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Chief Executive (1989-2005) and Alcoa board member (since 2001). Newspaper Independent on Sunday claimed she joined Alcoa in exchange for a $1m donation to WWF US and allowed Alcoa to join WWF’s exclusive “Corporate Club”, a claim Fuller has found hard to refute. Despite publicly opposing the highly controversial Fjarðaál smelter project, Fuller abstained rather than voting against the project in Alcoa’s boardroom. Elsewhere she has claimed that Alcoa holds “a strong commitment to sustainability, including energy efficiency, recycling, and habitat protection.”

Compared to these heavyweights Alcoa’s other current board members may look like small fry, but they still command an impressive and worrying influence across a number of boards.

Sir Martin Sorrell is founder and chief executive officer of the £7.5 billion communications and advertising company WPP. He has been a NASDAQ director since 2001 and was appointed an Ambassador for British Business by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Before founding WPP, Martin Sorrell led the international expansion of famed UK advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. He calls himself ‘a money man’ saying: “I like counting beans very much indeed”.

Arthur D. Collins, Jr. is a big pharmaceuticals boss. He is retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic Inc. who he had been with between 1992 and 2008, and previously Corporate Vice President of Abbott Laboratories from 1989 to 1992. He also sits on the boards of arms manufacturers – Boeing, and bio-tech giant Cargill.

Michael G. Morris has been Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of all major subsidiaries of American Electric Power since January 2004 having been a company executive since 2003. He is also a Director of the USA’s Nuclear Power Operations and the Business Roundtable (chairing the Business Roundtable’s Energy Task Force) as well as the Hartford Financial Services Group. He was listed 158th on the Forbes Executive Pay list in 2011 and received a total $9 million in 2010.

Finally, Patricia F. Russo, is a Director of asset management group KKR & Co, General Motors, Hewlett Packard and drug manufacturers Merck & Co, who’s arthritis treatment Vioxx induced heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths in 27,000 people between 1999 and 2004. Merck were exposed for trying to bury negative evidence and distort drug trials to hide the known cardiovascular effects of Vioxx. Litigation following the scandal is ongoing and will be part of the business of Ms Russo.

Coming back to Iceland there is another former director of note. Norwegian national Bernt Reitan was Alcoa Executive Vice President from 2004 to 2010 and a director of iron alloy and silicon company Elkem from 1988 to 2000, putting him in the centre of the development of Iceland’s Hvalfjörður Elkem plant, and the Fjarðaál aluminium smelter. Elkem subsidiary Elkem Aluminium was sold to Alcoa in 2009. Reitan broke the ground at the massive Fjarðaál smelter in Reyðarfjörður in 2004 alongside Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, then Minister of Industry, and Guðmundur Bjarnason, Mayor of Fjarðabyggð. In view of his influential position in Iceland Reitan sits on the Icelandic-American Chamber of Commerce which was formed by the Iceland Foreign Trade Service in New York and promotes trade between Iceland and the USA.

Mr Reitan is also a Director of the International Primary Aluminium Institute and a former board member of the European Aluminium Association as well as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Yara Internation ASA and Renewable Energy Corporation ASA.

The combined power of these Alcoa Directors reaches deep into the political and corporate structures of the USA and Europe. In this light it is a mean feat for Alcoa to be ejected from Húsavík, but we can be assured that Alcoa’s aluminium claws are still dug in deep in Iceland – a small country with such cheap and abundant hydro power.  Read More

May 21 2012
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Glencore: Reaping Huge Profits From Life’s Essentials


This video by Patrick Clair tells the story of commodity broker Glencore International, the biggest shareholder of Century Aluminum, and the company’s dangerously powerful position on the world’s markets.

Click here to read Saving Iceland’s dossier on Glencore, Century and the incestuous world of mining.

May 11 2012

The Geothermal Ecocide of Reykjanes Peninsula


After thirteen years of environmental, economic and technical evaluations, followed by a proposition for a parliamentary solution and a three month long public comments process, wherein 225 reviews where handed in — we are now witnessing the final steps in the making of Iceland’s Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources. The plan, which in diplomatic language is supposed to “lay the foundation for a long-term agreement upon the exploitation and protection of Iceland’s natural resources,” has now been presented as a bill by the Ministers of Environment and of Industry, respectively, and is currently awaiting discussion and further bureaucratic processes in parliament.

Treated as the Master Plan’s trash can, the unique geothermal areas on the Reykjanes peninsula get a particularly harsh deal. Out of the peninsula’s nineteen energy potential areas, only three are listed for protection while seven are set for exploitation in addition to the four that have already been harnessed. Five additional areas are kept pending, more likely than not to be set for exploitation later. Existing plans for energy production outline how the peninsula is set to be turned into a single and continuous industrial zone, and the power companies seem to be simply waiting for a further green light to exploit the area. All this in order to further feed the aluminium industry.

In this overview we take a look at nine of these nineteen areas — those from the west of Gráuhnúkar — of which only one is to be protected according to the Master Plan. We look at the plans on the drawing board, their current status, the key companies involved, the already existing power plants, the threatened areas, and at last but not least: possible targets for direct action. On the map below, these areas are marked from number one to nine. Obviously the map only shows the areas at stake and the reader has to use her or his imagination to fill in power lines and the rest of the necessary infrastructure. Most of the following photos are taken by Ellert Grétarsson — click here and here for more of his photos.

Energy Options

 

Unmasking the Geothermal Myth

In a world increasingly concerned about carbon emissions,” Jaap Krater and Miriam Rose state, “the clean image of hydroelectric and geothermal energy is appealing.” This has certainly been the case in Iceland, where the highly polluting aluminium industry has attempted to re-model their dirty image by powering their production with so-called ‘green energy’. However, this greenwashing has not entirely worked as the eastern highland’s Kárahnjúkar dams — fully built in 2007 to power an Alcoa aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður — have proven to be as ecologically and economically disastrous as environmentalists warned. As a result the aluminium companies have now mostly moved from hydro and instead are increasingly focussing on geothermal energy.

One of the companies is Norðurál, subsidiary of Century Aluminum, who claim that their planned 360 thousand ton aluminium smelter in Helguvík will be one the world’s most environmentally friendly smelters. Why so? Because according to the company, the 625 MW of electricity required to run a smelter of this size is supposed to come only from the peninsula’s geothermal energy sources. However, environmentalists and scientists consider the estimation of geothermal energy believed to be extractable from the peninsula to be highly over-estimated, and claim that additional hydro power plants would be needed to power the smelter. This would most likely come from the much-debated and now temporarily halted dams in the river of lower Þjórsá.

Last year, unable to access the necessary geothermal energy in north Iceland, aluminium company Alcoa was forced to withdraw their six years long plan to build a geothermal powered smelter at Bakki, Húsavík. We predict that if Century cannot force through the damming of lower Þjórsá a similar situation awaits Helguvík. But that has not stopped the project’s interested parties, who still state confidently that the smelter will be built, and powered with geothermal energy.

Regardless of the need for additional hydro power, the exploitation of the Reykjanes peninsula’s geothermal areas spells the end of this magnificent nature of the peninsula as we know it. Test drilling and boreholes, endless roads and power lines, power plants and other infrastructure; all this would turn the Reykjanes peninsula — this unique land of natural volcanic wonders, which many scientists and environmentalists believe to be one of the world’s best options for creating a giant volcano park with educational and tourism-related opportunities — into a large industrial zone.

But these are only the very visible impacts of the planned large-scale exploitation. Other environmental catastrophes are in fact inevitable with large scale geothermal industry, becoming increasingly visible to the public as the green reputation of geothermal energy slowly decreases.

Two of Saving Iceland’s spokespersons — ecological economist Jaap Krater and geologist Miriam Rose — have thoroughly analysed the development of Iceland’s geothermal potential in a chapter, written on behalf of Saving Iceland, and recently published in a book on the current energy crisis. While we strongly recommend the piece for further reading about the geothermal myths, a few of their points will be addressed here, with relevance to recent events in Iceland.

Firstly, geothermal gases are rich in a variety of harmful elements and chemical compounds such as sulphur dioxide, whose impacts are systematically underestimated according the Public Health Authority of Reykjavík. Since production began at the Hellisheiði geothermal power plant — often claimed to be the biggest of its kind in the world — in 2006, a 140 percent increase of sulphur pollution has been measured in the capital area of Reykjavík, only 30 kilometres away. Recent studies, conducted by the University of Iceland, suggest a direct link between increased sulphur pollution on the one hand, and increased use of medicine for asthma and heart disease ‘angina pectoris’ on the other hand. However, engineering firms such as Mannvit, authors of many of the Environmental Impacts Assessments for geothermal power-plants, have so far ignored these studies and instead based their assessments on so-called prediction models. (Read more about the sulphur pollution here and here.)

Secondly, at the end of last year it was revealed that for two years energy company Reykjavík Energy — who own and operate the Hellisheiði plant — had on occasions been pumping waste water containing hydrogen sulphide into drinking water aquifers. Sulphides are far from being the plants’ only damaging effluents entering our water system; Krater and Rose mention that “geothermal fluids contain high concentrations of heavy metals and other toxic elements, including radon, arsenic, mercury, ammonia, and boron.”

Thirdly, it is suggested that depletion of one geothermal reservoir can result in the drying up of surrounding hot spring areas. While large-scale exploitation in Iceland is probably too young to witness these effects, environmentalists and geologists have warned that exactly this will happen in the Reykjanes peninsula if the existing plans go ahead.

The Key Companies Involved

HS Orka

HS Orka is an energy company that owns and operates two geothermal power plants on the peninsula — Reykjanesvirkjun and Svartsengi — the majority of who’s energy goes to Norðurál’s aluminium smelter in Grundartangi, Hvalfjörður. HS Orka’s majority shareholder is Magma Energy Sweden A.B., a puppet company of the Canadian firm Magma Energy, which was established to get around laws that prevent non-Europeans from buying Icelandic companies. After Magma’s 66,6% share, the remaining 33,4% is owned by Icelandic pension funds.

Before privatisation HS Orka (then called Hitaveita Suðurnesja) was owned fifty-fifty by the Icelandic state and several municipalities on the country’s south-west coast, but in 2007 the state’s share was sold to a private company named Geysir Green Energy (GGE). Following laws passed in 2008, regarding the separation of private energy production from competitive operations, the company became two different firms — HS Veitur and HS Orka — of which the latter takes care of energy production and sales. Bit by bit, GGE bought up two thirds of HS Orka’s shares. In 2009, GGE sold extra 10% to Magma Energy, which at the same time bought 32% from another energy company, Reykjavík Energy, and the nearby municipality of Hafnarfjörður. At this point GGE owned 55% of HS Orka and Magma owned 43%.

Harsh criticism arose over these deals which were effectively privatisation of Iceland’s natural resources, including a campaign led by pop-singer Björk and Eva Joly, the recent French Green Party presidential candidate, who at that point served as the Icelandic center-left government’s special financial advisor, following the general elections in 2009. Asked if the company was considering majority stake in HS Orka, Magma’s CEO Ross Beaty replied with a straight “no”. He then emphasised that the company would not buy more than 50% of the shares, as had officially been accepted by Iceland’s government, calling this “a rather awkward business position but certainly something that we feel can be workable.”

However, in 2010 Geysir Green Energy sold all their shares to Magma, which now owned 98.5% of HS Orka. A year later Magma sold 25% to Jarðvarmi slhf, a company owned by fourteen Icelandic pension funds, which a little later bought additional 8.4%. At last, Magma bought the 1.5% still owned by four different municipalities. Thus Magma holds 66.6% of the shares today, while Jarðvarmi owns 33.4%. The land use rights held by Magma allow for 65 years exploitation with an option to extend this for another 65 years.

Alterra Power

Just as the name could not have been coloured with more controversy and scepticism, Magma Energy merged with Plutonic Power and became Alterra Power, a company traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The new company’s Executive Chairman Ross Beaty, said that the merger would “strengthen both companies and […] create a larger, more diversified renewable energy company.” He further stated: “Geothermal will remain a core focus of the new company, but hydro, wind and solar assets will be solid business platforms for future growth. In the renewable energy business, bigger is better and this combination will achieve that while enhancing returns to each company’s shareholders.”

Alterra Power already operates geothermal, hydro and wind power plants in Nevada and British Columbia, which together with the Iceland plants have the energy capacity of 570 MW. In the company’s own words, they have a “strong financial capacity to support [their] aggressive growth plans,” which include geothermal plants in Chile and Peru. Such Latin-American adventures are certainly not new to the company’s key people, as Ross Beaty founded and currently serves as Chairman of one of the world’s largest silver producers, Pan American Silver, with some of its mines in Peru.

For the last three decades in fact Beaty has founded and divested a series of mineral resource companies, but has now shifted his focus to the ever-enlarging economy of ‘green energy’. As he explained himself: “This time around I wanted to build something green, so I looked at geothermal and it was just perfect, it just fit”. When confronted with the possibility that he and his company were taking advantage of Iceland’s economic collapse — a theory supported by the words of John Perkins, the author of ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ — he called such ideas “ignorance and complete nonsense.” Only a few months later, he nevertheless said to Hera Research Monthly, an online investment newsletter, that “going into Iceland was strictly something that could only have happened because Iceland had a calamitous financial meltdown in 2008.”

Norðurál

Norðurál is a subsidiary of North-American aluminium producer Century Aluminum, whose largest shareholder is commodity broker Glencore International, a company that controls almost 40% of the global aluminium market. Glencore is mostly known for its many tentacles of corruption and worldwide human rights and environmental violations — most recently manifested in the exposure of child-labour in the company’s copper mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the dumping of acid into a river at another site in the same country.

Norðurál currently operates an aluminium smelter in Hvalfjörður, which was fully built in 1998 despite harsh opposition by the fjord’s inhabitants. The smelter has been enlarged in a few phases, seeing the production capacity going from the original 60 thousand tons per year, to the current 278 thousand tons. Since 2004, the company has invested 20 billion ISK into building another Iceland smelter, in Helguvík on the north-west tip of the Reykjanes peninsula. According to the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the smelter is supposed to be powered solely by the peninsula’s geothermal energy — a claim that environmentalists and geologists have seriously questioned.

In April 2007, HS Orka signed a contract with Norðurál, promising the latter company 150 MW of energy for the Helguvík smelter’s first phase, supposed to be extracted by the planned expansion of the Reykjanesvirkjun geothermal power plant. Three years later, when no energy had been made available, the aluminium company filed charges against HS Orka for non-compliance. The conflict ended up in an arbitration court in Sweden, the registered home country of HS Orka’s owner, Magma Energy Sweden. Officially the conflict was presented to the public as a matter of energy prices but in late 2011 the court ruled that HS Orka is obliged to provide Norðurál the originally agreed-upon energy, suggesting that the conflict had to do with more than prices.

Already Existing Power Plants

Reykjanes

Reykjanesvirkjun is a 100 MW plant, owned by Alterra Power, whose energy partly powers Norðurál’s smelter in Hvalfjörður. It is located on 410 hectares of land located at the south-west tip of the peninsula. The company has plans for at least an 80 MW expansion of the plant, which is supposed to take place in two 50 and 30 MW phases, that according to HS Orka should both be completed in 2013.

However, following conditions set by Iceland’s National Energy Authority (NEA) last year, the expansion plans have become a bit more complicated. In order for it to happen, at least 30 out of the 50 MW included in the first phase have to come from another area than currently planned. Further extraction in the already exploited area would simply be unsustainable and decrease the area’s capacity. Geologist Sigmundur Einarsson actually believes that the field is already over-exploited. His claim is based on studies from 2009, by the very same NEA, which state that the area’s long-term sustainable production capacity is hardly more than 25 MW.

Svartsengi

The Svartsengi plant is operated by HS Orka and is located on 150 hectares of land owned partly by the municipality of Grindavík and partly privately. Next to it stands the Blue Lagoon, a tourist attraction created by the brine pollution from the power plant. The plant is a combined electricity and heat plant with a current electric power capacity of 75 MW, of which most goes to Norðurál’s smelter in Hvalfjörður.

The Threatened Areas

Eldvörp

The Master Plan gives a green light for the exploitation of Eldvörp, a 15 km long row of craters, located four km south-west of Svartsengi. Svartsengi and Eldvörp are thought to share a geothermal aquifer, which many claim to be fully exploited already. Thus even the smallest energy production would be unsustainable. Alterra Power still has plans to build a 50 MW power plant in Eldvörp, for which both research and utilization leaves have been granted. The planned plant is on land owned by the municipality of Grindavík, which apparently is about to finish the required land use plan enabling the project to take place.

The geothermal field is situated at the heart of the row of craters. There are only a few signs of geothermal activity on the actual surface, only fumaroles the lavafield and steam wisps when the weather is mild. One single borehole has already been constructed close to one of the craters at the centre of Eldvörp. It’s environmental impact is very limited compared with the impacts of the planned over-all drilling and the appendant pipelines, power lines, roads, powerhouse separator building. Such construction will have enormously destructive impacts on both natural and cultural relics in the area, including the row of craters and the Sundvörðuhraun lavafield.

Stóra-Sandvík

Stóra-Sandvík is a unique geothermal field in a coastal area close to the municipalities of Grindavík and Hafnir, as well as to the Reykjanesvirkjun plant, which in itself should be reason enough to move it from the exploitation category and instead to protection.

Krýsuvík

This geothermal area consists of four subfields — Sandfell, Trölladyngja, Sveifluháls and Austurengjar — which all connect to the same volcanic system, usually just named Krýsuvík. The geothermal activity is located at the margins of the system’s fissure swarms, while the Núpshliðarháls tuff ridge lies closer to its centre, with thousands of years old lava flats and eruptive fissures on both sides. Where the tuff has tightened due to geothermal transformations, small streams flow on to the lavafields and have thus created vegetated areas such as Höskuldsvellir, Selsvellir, Vigdísarvellir and Tjarnarvellir. As from the west of Hellisheiði, hardly any water runs on the surface of the whole Reykjanes mountain range, save the above-mentioned areas of Krýsuvík.

Interestingly, Krýsuvík is directly linked to what many consider to be the origins of environmentalism in Iceland. A geologist and environmentalist named Sigurður Þórarinsson, who had often voiced his concerns regarding Icelanders’ treatment of the country’s natural environment, had become seriously alarmed by what he witnessed by the Grænavatn maar in Krýsvík. It was, Sigurður said, used as a trash can for construction projects in the nearby area. At a meeting at the Icelandic Ecological Society in 1949, Sigurður suggested the creation of a legislation regarding nature conservation. Shortly afterwards, he was asked to take part in designing the legislation, which was passed in 1956 — the first in Iceland’s history. (Read about Sigurður Þórarinsson here.)

Out of the four Krýsuvík areas, the Energy Master Plan allows for the exploitation of Sandfell and Sveifluháls, while Trölladyngja and Austurengjar are supposed to be pending until the results of drilling in the two former areas are known. The National Energy Authority claims that these combined 89 km2 of land should have the production capacity of 445 MW of energy for 50 years, and as such be Iceland’s third most powerful geothermal field after the Hengill and Törfajökull areas. However, independent scientists and environmentalists have seriously questioned these figures, believing the area’s maximum possible production capacity to be 120 MW for 50 years.

Sandfell

Sandfell area is a semi-unspoiled volcanic area of lavafields and tuff mountains, large vegetated flatlands, and beautifully formed craters. It is a uniquely colourful area, which will be permanently altered if HS Orka’s planned 50 MW power plant will be built. The company has already been granted permission for test drilling and one borehole has been test-drilled, but no results have yet been published.

Sveifluháls (Krýsuvík)

Sveifluháls is a 20 km broad and 150 to 200 meter high compounded and mostly non-vegetated tuff ridge. The 2-3 km long geothermal area of fumaroles, mud springs and muddy hot springs — usually referred to as simply ‘the Krýsuvík geothermal area’ — lies a little east of the Krýsuvík fissure swarm. Despite drilling done in the second half of the 20th century, the area is relatively unspoiled and could easily be brought back close to its natural state. Due to the tuff transformation, the area is especially rich in colour and contains unusual geothermal salt deposits and gypsum. The area is unique due to its many maars, for instance Arnarvatn and Grænavatn (pictured above), of which some show signs of Holocene volcanic activity. Sveifluháls is a popular stopover as well as an outside school-room for geology. It also contains historical relics of human residence, as far back as Iceland’s original settlement.

There are plans to operate a 50-100 MW power plant in the area — a construction that would include somewhere between 10 and 20 boreholes, road construction, pipelines and power lines to connect the plant to the national energy grid. HS Orka has a research leave in the area but has not been able to guarantee the utilization rights, which are owned by the municipality of Hafnarfjörður.

Austurengjar

The geothermal area of Austurengjar is about 1.5 km east of lake Grænavatn — a relatively flat and mostly unspoiled area of mud pots, hot springs and dolerite ridges, which slopes north to lake Kleifarvatn. As a result of earthquakes in 1924, the geyser activity increased dramatically and since then, Austurengjahver has been the area’s most powerful spring. This colourful geothermal area is special as it lies completely outside of Krýsuvík’s volcanic system and shows no signs of Holocene volcanic activity. The plans for a 50 MW power plant at Austurengjar, including 10 to 15 boreholes and a whole lot of power lines, would directly impact the whole area and change the face of lake Kleifarvatn, which is today a wild and unspoilt lake, surrounded by mountains.

Trölladyngja

Trölladyngja is one of the three mountains (the other two being Grænadyngja and Fífavallafjall) that together make up the north-east end of a 13 km long tuff ridge called Núpshlíðarháls, which lies within Krýsuvík’s volcanic system. The geothermal area is about three km long and seems to be partly connected to extension fractures in the system. South of the mountains, a small stream called Sogalækur has shovelled out a considerable amount of clay and thus formed a colourful canyon called Sogin. The stream deposited the clay into the lava below and formed the vegetated field Höskuldarvellir. HS Orka has for many years had plans to build a power plant in Trölladyngja and three holes have been drilled already, resulting in very limited success but a lot of disruption. The Trölladyngja area is partly included in the Natural Heritage Register.

Protected Area(s)

Brennisteinsfjöll

Only one out of the peninsula’s nine potential energy generating areas will be protected if the Master Plan goes through parliament unaltered. Brennisteinsfjöll are a row of mountains, considered an impenetrable part of the Krýsuvík area, and do in fact constitute the largest untouched wilderness around the capital area of Reykjavík. As highlighted by Krater and Rose: “Wilderness areas are becoming rare globally, with over 83 percent of the earth’s landmass directly affected by humans, and the Icelandic wilderness is one of the largest left in Europe.”

Possible Targets for Protests and Direct Actions

The Ministry of Environment
Skuggasund 1
150 Reykjavík

The Ministry of Industry
Arnarhváll by Lindargata
150 Reykjavík

HS Orka
Brekkustígur 36
260 Reykjanesbæ

Jarðvarmi slhf
Stórhöfða 31
110 Reykjavík

Norðurál Grundartangi ehf (smelter and offices)
Grundartangi
301 Akranes

Norðurál Helguvík ehf (only offices)
Stakksbraut 1
Garður
232 Reykjanesbæ

Helguvík Smelter
See location on map here.

Century Aluminum Company (Corporate Headquarters)
2511 Garden Road
Building A, Suite 200
Monterey,
CA 93940
USA

For a list of more offices and smelter click here.

Alterra Power Corp. (Corporate Offices)
600-888 Dunsmuir Street
Vancouver, BC
Canada V6C 3K4

For a list of more Alterra Power offices click here.

Glencore International

Registered Office
Queensway House
Hilgrove Street
St Helier
Jersey
JE1 1ES

Headquarters
Baarermattstrasse 3
P.O. Box 777
CH 6341 Baar
Switzerland

_______________________________________________________

Main Sources

Áhugahópur um verndun Jökulsánna í Skagafirði, Eldvötn – samtök um náttúruvernd í Skaftárhreppi, Félag um verndun hálendis Austurlands, Framtíðarlandið, Fuglavernd, Landvernd, Náttúruvaktin, Náttúruverndarsamtök Austurlands (NAUST), Náttúruverndarsamtök Íslands, Náttúruverndarsamtök Suðurlands, Náttúruverndarsamtök Suðvesturlands, Samtök um náttúruvernd á Norðurlandi (SUNN), Sól á Suðurlandi. Umsögn um drög að tillögu til þingsályktunar um áætlun um vernd og orkunýtingu landsvæða. 11. nóvember 2011. (Download PDF here.)

Krater and Miriam Rose on behalf of Saving Iceland, “Development of Iceland’s Geothermal Energy Potential for Aluminum Production — A Critical Analysis”. In: Abrahamsky, K. (ed.) Sparking a World-wide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World. 2010, AK Press, Edinburgh. p. 319-333. (Download PDF here.)

Various information from Náttúrukortið (The Nature Map) on the website of environmentalist NGO Framtíðarlandið (The Future Land).

Sigmundur Einarsson, Hinar miklu orkulindir Íslands, Smugan.is, October 2009.

Sigmundur Einarsson, Er HS Orka í krísu í Krýsuvík?, Smugan.is, November 2009.

Sigmundur Einarsson, Ómerkilegur útúrsnúningur iðnaðarráðherra, Smugan.is, November 2011.

Sigmundur Einarsson, Er HS Orka á heljarþröm?, Smugan.is, December 2011.

Catharine Fulton, Blame Canada? Geothermal energy, Swedish shelf companies and the privatisation of Iceland, The Reykjavík Grapevine, October 2009.

Catharine Fulton, Magma Energy Lied to Us, The Reykjavík Grapevine, May 2010.

Volcano Park to Open in Iceland? Iceland Review, July 2007.

Various information from the websites of Alterra Power, HS Orka and Norðurál.

Dec 02 2011
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Wrong Climate for Damming Rivers


Google Earth Tour Reveals How a Global Dam Boom Could Worsen the Climate Crisis

International Rivers and Friends of the Earth International have teamed up to create a state-of-the-art Google Earth 3-D tour and video narrated by Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey, winner of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award. The production was launched on the first day of the COP 17 climate meeting in Durban. The video and tour allow viewers to explore why dams are not the right answer to climate change, by learning about topics such as reservoir emissions, dam safety, and adaptation while visiting real case studies in Africa, the Himalayas and the Amazon.

Nov 09 2011
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From Siberia to Iceland: Century Aluminum, Glencore and the Incestuous World of Mining


A special report for Saving Iceland by Dónal O’Driscoll

Preface

Glencore are the majority shareholder of Century, the owner of one operational and one half-built smelter in Iceland, it’s key operations for aluminium smelting. But who are Glencore and what are the implications for Iceland? This comprehensive article profiles the world’s biggest commodity broker, who’s only comparable predecessor was Enron. The profile covers the reach and grip of Glencore’s domination of metal, grain, coal and bio-oils markets, allowing it to set prices which profit very few and are detrimental to many. It shows the tight web of connections between the major mining companies and Glencore through shared board history and shared ownership of assets, cataloguing key shareholders (and board members) who’s stakes make them larger shareholders than institutional investors in ownership of Glencore. These connections include Rusal’s co chair Nathaniel Rothschild, a financier with a $40m investment in Glencore, and a personal friend of Peter Mandelson (former EU trade commissioner and British politician) and George Osborne (UK Chancellor).

The article details the human rights and environmental abuses of Glencore at it’s many operations, including the 2009 killing of Mayan indigenous leader Adolfo Ich Chamán who spoke out about Century’s activities in Guatemala under CEO-ship of Peter Jones (still a Century board member). It claims that Glencore is higher than most in the running for most abusive and environmentally detrimental mining company, going where lesser devils fear to tread – trading with Congo, Central Asia and embargoed countries such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and apartheid South Africa. Glencore founder Marc Rich was involved in trading embargoed Iranian oil, and fled the United States in 1983 accused of insider dealing and tax dodging over Iranian deals, becoming one of the 10 fugitives most wanted by the FBI, until he was pardoned by Bill Clinton. Glencore is still run by two of his main men. Read More

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Sep 11 2011

Iceland’s Energy Master Plan Allows for Three More Kárahnjúkar Dams – Þjórsárver Protected, Þjórsá and Krýsuvík Destroyed


The equivalent of three Kárahnjúkar dams will be built in Iceland in the near future if the parliament will pass a proposition for a parliamentary resolution on Iceland’s Energy Master Plan, which the Ministers of Environment and of Industry presented three weeks ago. Despite this, Iceland’s energy companies and parliament members in favour of heavy industry have already started complaining – arguing that way too big proportion of Iceland’s nature will be declared protected, will the proposition pass. Among the power plants allowed for in the proposition are three dams in lower Þjórsá, which for years have been a topic of heavy debate and in fact completely split the local community and are more than likely to become the bone of contention between the two governmental parties as the Left Greens (VG) have, along with other environmentalists, voiced their opposition to the damming of Þjórsá.

The Energy Master Plan is a framework programme, meant to result in a long term agreement upon the exploitation and protection of Iceland’s glacial rivers and geothermal areas. Its making, which since 1999 has been in the hands of special steering committiees, established by the two above-mentioned ministries, reached a critical status in July this year when its second phase was finished and presented to the ministers who in mid August presented their proposition for a parliamentary resolution. Before it will be discussed in parliament the proposition will be open to comments and criticism from the public, as well as interested parties, energy and aluminium companies on the one hand, environmentalists on the other. Read More

Jul 23 2011

Mixed Feelings About Iceland’s Energy Master Plan – Landsvirkjun Presents its Future Strategy


The making of Iceland’s Energy Master Plan, a framework programme concerning the exploitation and protection of the country’s natural resources, which has been in the making since 1999, has reached a critical state as a report on the process’ second phase was published in the beginning of July. The report includes a list of more than 60 areas, arranged from the perspectives of both protection and exploitation, which is supposed to lay the foundation for a final parliamentary resolution concerning the Master Plan. While those in favour of further exploitation, parallel to the continuous build-up of heavy industry, seem generally happy with the report, environmentalists are both sceptical and critical, stating that the exploitation value was always in the forefront of the process.

Like explained on the project’s official website the process was “split into two phases. The first phase, 1999–2003, evaluated and ranked 20 large-scale hydro-power options, mostly located in the highlands, and the same number of geothermal options in 8 high-temperature areas.” The second phase was supposed to “rank all the options to produce the final result,” including “an evaluation of whether some areas should be conserved completely, without any energy-harnessing activities.” Proposed power projects were said to be “evaluated and categorised on the basis of efficiency, economic profitability, and how they will benefit the economy as a whole,” while the “the impact on the environment, nature, and wildlife” was also supposed to be evaluated, “as well as the impact on the landscape, cultural heritage and ancient monuments, grazing and other traditional land use, outdoor activities fishing, and hunting.” Read More

Jul 20 2011

Blood and Treasure – Rio Tinto’s Bloody Path in Bougainville


Originally published on Dateline

It’s 14 years since the war ended over what was once the world’s largest copper mine, at Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, but Dateline has uncovered claims that the PNG government was acting under instruction from mining giant Rio Tinto, when it killed thousands of people who wanted the mine shut down. The allegations come from PNG’s former Opposition Leader, and now Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, in 2001 court documents obtained by SBS Senior Correspondent Brian Thomson for Dateline. In them, Somare says the company, and its subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited, effectively used its wealth to control the government – a claim denied by BCL. With negotiations now underway to reopen the abandoned mine, could Bougainville be heading for a repeat of the bloody battle over its resources?