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Dec 02 2011
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.
Plans to operate a 250-360 thousand ton aluminium smelter in Helguvík, which has in fact been under construction since 2008, seem ever more likely to be nothing but an inoperable myth of the past, according to environmentalists as well as high ranking officials within the energy sector. Aluminium producer Norðurál (alias Century Aluminum, which already operates one smelter in Iceland), has not only been unable to guarantee the necessary minimum 435 MW of energy but is also stuck in an arbitration conflict with its planned energy supplier HS Orka (owned by Alterra Power, former Magma Energy), concerning energy price. Additionally, environmentalists’ warnings – that the geothermal energy planned to run the smelter can simply not be found – have gained strength and lead to the inevitable question if the damming of river Þjórsá has been planned for Helguvík.
During a recent meeting of chairmen from all the member unions of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), Hörður Arnarson, the director of the national energy company, Landsvirkjun, said that due to the current situation on international markets it would be enormously difficult for Norðurál to finance the 250 billion ISK smelter project. According to Vilhjálmur Birgisson, who attended the meeting, chairman of the Labor Union of Akranes (near to Grundartangi, where Century’s currently operating smelter is located), Hörður spoke of the Helguvík project’s likelihood as very negligible. Another representative at the meeting, Kristján Gunnarsson, chairman of the Labour and Fishermen Union of Keflavík, stated that when asked about the possibility of Landsvirkjun selling energy to Norðurál, Hörður answered saying that no energy is really available for the project.
While it certainly is true that Landsvirkjun has, especially in the nearest past, had problems with financing, due to the international financial crisis as well as the Icelandic economy’s instability, the latter point – that no energy is actually available for Helguvík – is of more importance here. Environmentalists have, from the beginning of the Helguvík project, stated that the plans to harness energy for the smelter in geothermal areas on the Reykjanes peninsula, are not sufficient, for two reasons. Firstly, as the alleged size of the energy extraction is not sustainable and is more than likely to drain these unique natural areas for good. Secondly, because even if fully exploited, the geothermal areas would not produce enough energy for the smelter. Another energy source will be essential in order for the smelter to operate and even though Reykjavík Energy (OR) has promised Century some energy from a planned enlargement of their power plant in Hellisheiði, the aluminium producer still faces a serious lack of electricity for Helguvík. Read More
Nov 14 2011
Words by Paul Fontaine. Photo by Alísa Kalyanova. Originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine.
One of Iceland’s proudest assets is its energy grid. Geothermal energy, by 2010 figures, accounts for just over 26% of the country’s electricity, as well as 86% of its heating and hot water. Iceland’s geothermal energy technology has been shared with countries around the world, and has attracted the interests of foreign investors.
However, as comparatively cleaner for the environment geothermal power is not without its problems. One of these is the main elephant in the room: geothermal energy is not a renewable energy source. Boreholes that tap into the massive steam vents below the surface do not last forever. When Ross Beaty, CEO of Magma Energy (now a part of Alterra Power Corp.) made the specious claim that geothermal energy lasts for centuries, scientists such as Stefán Arnórsson and Sigmundur Einarsson were quick to point out that geothermal power in the Reykjanes area — where Magma sought to drill — only had enough power to last about 60 years at best. Although this point was seldom, if ever, brought up in any previous discussion about geothermal power in Iceland, more recent events have shown that geothermal energy is not just non-renewable; it can even pollute. Read More
Nov 09 2011
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
Nov 09 2011
The smallest aluminium smelter in Iceland uses 50% more electricity than all of Iceland’s households and businesses combined, while contributing very little to the country’s GDP. Heavy industry has often been touted by Icelandic conservatives as a cash cow: foreign companies can provide the country with jobs, while utilising Iceland’s green energy to produce aluminium in a cleaner fashion.
While the myth of the “green smelter” has been definitively put to rest, aluminium is still billed by some as being good for the economy. However, Vilhjálmur Þorsteinsson – the chair of a study group assembled by the Ministry of Industry that studies Iceland’s energy use – has come to some damning conclusions about smelters in Iceland.
Iceland’s three aluminium smelters – Alcoa in Reyðarfjörður, Norðurál in Grundartangi, and Rio Tinto Alcan in Straumsvík – consume approximately 13 terawatt hours of electricity. The entire capacity of Iceland’s electrical output is 17 terawatt hours. Furthermore, Straumsvík – the smallest smelter in the country – uses 3.6 terawatt hours. The combined total energy consumption of every home and business in Iceland (apart from the smelters) equals only 2.3 terawatt hours.
At the same time, even the best estimates of what smelters contribute to the economy only put them in the neighbourhood of contributing to 5% of the GDP. Tourism accounts for about the same percentage of the GDP while using far less of the power grid. Meanwhile, Iceland’s service sector accounts for 69.9% of its GDP, and fishing accounts for 12%.
Nov 05 2011
By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine.
Those who are yet to give up on Icelandic media cannot have avoided noticing one Kristján Már Unnarsson, a news director and journalist at TV station Stöð 2. Kristján, who in 2007 received the Icelandic Press Awards for his coverage of “everyday countryside life”, is a peculiar fan of manful and mighty constructions and loves to tell good news to and about all the “good heavy industry guys” that Iceland has to offer.
To be more precise, Kristján has, for at least a decade (and I say “at least” just because my memory and research doesn’t take me further back), gone on a rampage each and every time he gets the chance to tell his audience about the newest of news in Iceland’s heavy industry and energy affairs. He talks about gold-mills when referring to dams built to power aluminium production; and when preparing an evening news item on, say, plans regarding energy and aluminium production, he usually doesn’t see a reason for talking to more than one person – a person who, almost without exception, is in favour of whatever project is being discussed.
After witnessing Kristján’s latest contribution to the ongoing development of heavy industry and large-scale energy production, i.e. his coverage of Alcoa’s recently announced decision not to continue with its plan of building a new aluminium smelter in Húsavík, wherein he managed to blame just anything but Alcoa itself for the company’s decisions, I couldn’t resist asking (and, really, not for the first time): What can really explain this way too obvious one-sidedness, manifest not only in this one journalist’s work but seemingly the majority of news coverage concerning heavy industry? Read More
Oct 18 2011
After a six years process Alcoa in Iceland has withdrawn its plans to build a 250 thousand ton aluminium smelter in Bakki, near Húsavík in the North of Iceland. It is now clear, according to the company, that the energy needed to run the proposed smelter will not be provided and, even if it could be provided, the company finds the price too high. Tómas Már Sigurðsson, the director of Alcoa in Iceland, announced this yesterday on a meeting in Húsavík, marking a milestone in the struggle against the aluminium industry’s further development in Iceland.
As from 2005 Alcoa, along with national energy company Landsvirkjun, Húsavík’s authorities and – to begin with – the Icelandic authorities, has been working on the project, which would have required at least 400 MW of energy, produced by harnessing geothermal areas and glacial rivers in the North. In 2008 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Landsvirkjun and Alcoa expired, and a year later the same happened concerning a MOU between the aluminium producer and the Icelandic government, the latter not willing to renew it.
Since then Landsvirkjun has signed a few other MOUs, regarding geothermal energy commerce, with possible buyers such as data centres and silicon factories, in some ways meeting with a popular demand for less destructive and more “green” use of the geothermal energy. Regardless of what one finds about the alleged “greenness” of such enterprises this development has inevitably raised the question if Landsvirkjun would be able to feed both Alcoa’s planned smelter and at the same time these smaller, less energy intensive factories. Read More
Oct 14 2011
During 2007 and 2008, Kandhamal, a district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, witnessed organised attacks on Christians in some of the worst communal violence in India’s history.
Through survivors’ testimonies, Kandhamal 2008 examines how Hindu supremacist groups turned two communities – Adivasi (indigenous) Konds and Pano Dalit Christians – against each other, with the tacit support of the State Government and local administration. More than 50,000 people became refugees, 5,000 houses were burnt and destroyed, at least 400 churches, prayer halls and institutions were desecrated, demolished or burnt down. This region is extremely poor, but rich in mineral resources which have attracted multinational mining companies including British firm Vedanta. The Odisha Government has ruthlessly pursued neo-liberal land acquisition policies formulated by the UK’s (Department for International Development (DfID) and the World Bank. The Konds have consistently fought this corporate land grab and the film highlights how Hindu supremacist groups and the State Government have sought to undermine that struggle.
Kandhamal 2008 will be premiered on Tuesday, 1 November, in Rm CLM.6.02 Clement House, London School of Economics at 7.15 pm. Director and researcher Samarendra Das, who was born in Odisha and has lived most of his life in Kandhamal, will discuss the background to and making of the film. Samarendra’s book, Out of this Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel (Orient Black Swan, 2010), which was co-written by anthropologist Felix Padel, is a thorough study of the aluminium industry and its global impacts. For more information about the documentary screening contact: sasg at southasiasolidarity.org.
Árni Daníel Júlíusson, Originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.
It is funny how things can turn around. For decades, Iceland languished in neoliberal hell, with signs of opposition few and far between. Meanwhile the opposition to the neoliberal order of things grew all over the world—with massive protests in Seattle, Genoa and elsewhere—and the beginnings of a world-wide anti-globalisation movement represented by the World Social Forum, first held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001. Almost nobody in Iceland did or said anything to support these powerful movements against the neoliberal order, with the exception of the brave Saving Iceland organisation. Read More
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