'Bakki' Tag Archive

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

Oct 18 2011
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No Smelter in Húsavík! – Energy Crisis Force Alcoa to Withdraw


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

Aug 30 2011
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More Industry in Hvalfjörður Brings More Abuse of Power


A broad general reconciliation on environmental and industrial affairs in Hvalfjörður has been completely ignored and stepped on by the Associated Icelandic Ports under the administration of a member of the social-democratic party Samfylkingin. This says Sigurbjörn Hjaltason, farmer in Hvalfjörður, who recently called for an investigation into the possible connection between bone deformities in his sheep’s skulls and an environmental accident at the Norðurál aluminium smelter in Grundartangi in 2006. Sigurbjörn has now raised awareness to yet another potential ecological disaster in Hvalfjörður – a fjord which already hosts two highly polluting factories: an aluminium smelter owned by Norðurál/Century Aluminium and an Elkem ferro silicon plant – as well as the abuse of power entailed in the process.

In a recent article, originally published on news-website Pressan, Sigurbjörn says that before the municipal elections in spring 2009, the community in Hvalfjörður settled upon an agreement about environmental and industrial affairs. But under the administration of Hjálmar Sveinsson (on photo), who is a vice-councilman of Reykjavík for Samfylkingin, a joint venture of several port authorities in the Faxaflói area, titled the Associated Icelandic Ports, is enabling the way for the construction of yet another two factories at the Grundatangi industrial site in Hvalfjörður, where the two aforementioned factories are located. Sigurbjörn describes the whole process as a very dubious one: Read More

Feb 06 2011
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Alcoa Still Wants to Build Smelter in Bakki – Questions Concerning Energy Unanswered


Alcoa still plans to build an aluminium smelter in Bakki by Húsavík, north-Iceland, according to the newspaper Fréttablaðið. This contradicts recent news, published in the business newspaper Viðskiptablaðið, saying that Alcoa was about to withdraw the idea due to the government’s alleged unwillingness to go ahead with it. Questions about energy to run the smelter are still unanswered but recent comments from the National Planning Agency, concerning the project’s joint Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), state that enough geothermal energy can not be produced for the smelter; and certainly not in a sustainable way. Read More

Jan 24 2011
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No Alcoa Smelter in Bakki?


According to sources close to the business newspaper Viðskiptablaðið, Alcoa has lost all patience with the situation in Húsavík and will drop plans to build a proposed aluminium smelter in the region.

The project has been fraught with obstacles since its inception. Most notably, Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir has been an outspoken opponent of the plan. A damning assessment from the Icelandic National Planning Agency concluded that the proposed smelter would also have a “significant negative impact” on the environment not just of the surrounding area, but on Iceland as a whole. A few days ago Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s National Energy company, announced that they would neither fight for or against the protection of the area and that they will not perform “test” drills in Gjástykki (a globally unique geothermal area in the north of Iceland with ravines, faults, lava fields and volcanic craters) until the government had completed the process of protecting the area, even if they had got a go a head to do so by the National Energy Authority. Read More

Nov 29 2010
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Damning Environmental Assessment of ALCOA’s Smelter Plans for Northern Iceland


November 25th, the joint Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on Alcoa’s planned 346 thousand ton aluminum smelter at Bakki, Húsavík, was finally published. In response, Iceland’s National Planning Agency released an extremely critical commentary regarding the planned smelter and the geothermal plants that are supposed to power it.

It states that:

– Environmental impacts of the project are high and cannot be mitigated.
– 17,000 ha of untouched wilderness will be affected
– Greenhouse gas emissions of the project would constitute 14% of Iceland’s total.
– There is a high amount of uncertainty regarding the full impact of the planned geothermal power plants and particularly their impact of the geothermal energy resource base.
– The assessed energy projects are not sufficient to power the smelter, with 140 MW of capacity missing.

“These reports confirms three key elements of critique that Saving Iceland voiced now several years ago,” says Jaap Krater, a spokesperson for Saving Iceland. Read More

Jun 09 2010

The Chinese Invasion


ÞeystareykirHe Guoqiang, party secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party, is visiting Iceland along with a delegation of business personale. They will be meeting with the country´s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and the foreign minister, Össur Skarphéðinsson, along with the heads of certain companies they´re interested in cooperating with.

On the 9th of June, he and his delegation attended a meeting with heads of Landsvirkjun (National Power Company) where a letter of intent was signed on behalf of Landsvirkjun on one side, one of China´s biggest contracting companies, China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE) and the government owned Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) on the other. The letter regards participation on tender offers to harness energy in Iceland. The letter does not commit any of these partners to any deals, but Landsvirkjun claims the letter displays their interest in doing business with these partners and CWE´s interest in bidding on the Búðarhálsdam project, with Exim Bank willing to finance some of CWE´s projects for Landsvirkjun. Read More

Nov 17 2009
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Development of Iceland’s Geothermal Energy Potential for Aluminium Production – A Critical Analysis


By Jaap Krater and Miriam Rose
In: Abrahamsky, K. (ed.) (2010) Sparking a World-wide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World. AK Press, Edinburgh. p. 319-333

Iceland is developing its hydro and geothermal resources in the context of an energy master plan, mainly to provide power for expansion of the aluminium industry. This paper tests perceptions of geothermal energy as low-carbon, renewable and environmentally benign, using Icelandic geothermal industry as a case study.
The application of geothermal energy for aluminium smelting is discussed as well as environmental and human rights record of the aluminium industry in general. Despite application of renewable energy technologies, emission of greenhouse gases by aluminium production is set to increase.
Our analysis further shows that carbon emissions of geothermal installations can approximate those of gas-powered plants. In intensely exploited reservoirs, life of boreholes is limited and reservoirs need extensive recovery time after exploitation, making geothermal exploitation at these sites not renewable in the short to medium term. Pollution and landscape impacts are extensive when geothermal technology is applied on a large scale.

Krater and Rose – Development of Iceland’s Geothermal Energy – Download as PDF
The full publication will be available from Jan. 15, 2010. ISBN 9781849350051.

Oct 13 2009

Alcoa Continues to Evaluate Bakki


Aluminium giant Alcoa continues to look into the financial prospects of building an aluminium smelter at Bakki outside of Húsavík though the Icelandic government has refused to extend their Statement of Will on the subject.

Tómas Már Sigurðsson, president of Alcoa in Iceland, says the project continues in cooperation with the energy companies and the local council of Norðurþing. They are now working on getting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done, which was ordered by the ministry of environment last summer. A suggestion for the assessment was given to the Office of the Icelandic National Planning Agency at the end of September this year. Tómas Már is hoping for the results of the assessment in the spring of 2010.

Read More

Sep 16 2009

Environmentalism is Not Prosperity Politics!


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in Morgunblaðið – After last autumn’s economical collapse, the discussion about environmental issues changed rapidly. Politicians who before spoke with full force against further energy- and heavy industry projects have now completely turned around, with the premises that environmentalism is prosperity politics. The head of the Left Green party recently called the party’s environmental policy puritanical and said that it does not apply in times of economical depression. The last fortress must then be fallen – at least amongst those who believe in reforms inside the representative democracy.

Now the plan is to push through an aluminium smelter in Helguvík with all its appropriate energy construction. Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the minister of environment, recently said that there is not enough energy on the Reykjanes penisula to fulfill the smelter’s energy needs. Others have pointed out that harnessing the geothermal areas there will be such a massive attack that the areas will most likely dry up in a short time. Katrín Júlíusdóttir, the minister of industry, has stated her positive opinion about Landsvirkjun producing energy for Helguvík – and the Þjórsá river comes immadeatly up to one’s mind. She also seems to be willing to renew the memorandum of understanding between the government and Alcoa, which according to the latter’s plans means that the whole geothermal areas in north-east Iceland have to be harnessed and dams built in one or more glacial rivers. Read More