'hydropower' Tag Archive

Aug 07 2017

Iceland’s Troubled Environment

Michael Chapman

When it comes to loving where you’re from, Iceland has a fantastic international reputation for its widespread use of renewable energy, its untouched landscapes and its sustainable environmental policies. But just how true is Iceland’s positive attitude to the environment?

How are phenomena such as climate change, heavy industry and tourism affecting the landscape, the wildlands, the glaciers and the seasons of the country? Most importantly, how are the Icelandic people responding to these threats, if at all?

There can be no denying, nor any hope of denying, Iceland’s staggering aesthetic beauty. Icelanders themselves are quick to point out their spiritual connection to the land, understandably proud and protective of their country’s many highlights; its geological marvels, breathtaking panoramas and stunning natural scenery.

With rolling black sand beaches, mist-wreathed mountainscapes, cerulean glacier tongues and bubbling hot springs, Mother Nature has candidly outshone herself decorating this small, Atlantic island. Read More

May 26 2012
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Renewable Resources, Unsustainable Utilization

In April this year, Iceland’s Ministers of the Environment and of Industry presented a parliamentary resolution for Iceland’s Energy Master Plan, in which the controversial plans to dam river Þjórsá are put on hold while the unique geothermal areas of the Reykjanes Peninsula are set for a monstrous exploitation — one that will turn the peninsula into a continuous industrial zone. For the last weeks, the resolution has been in the hands of the Industries Committee of Iceland’s parliament — a process that included more than 300 letters of remarks, sent in by individuals, associations, institutions and corporations.

The remarks can generally be split into two groups based on senders and views: firstly, individuals and environmentalist associations who above all protest the afore-mentioned plans for the Reykjanes peninsula; secondly, companies and institutions with vested interests in the further heavy industrialization of Iceland who demand that the Master Plan’s second phase goes unaltered through parliament — that is, as it was before the parliamentary resolution was presented, in which the planned Þjórsá dams and other hydro power plants are included in the exploitation category.

One of the remarks sent in differs from the others as it evaluates energy production and nature conservation in a larger, long-term context. That remark, written by Helga Katrín Tryggvadóttir, MA in development studies, is published here below, translated from Icelandic by Saving Iceland.

I find myself inclined to make a few remarks regarding the Industries Committee’s discussion about the Energy Master Plan. My remarks do not concern particular natural areas but rather the comprehensive ideas regarding the scope and nature of the protection and exploitation of natural areas. Since the making of the Energy Master Plan begun, much has changed for the better as researches and knowledge on energy production and nature conservation continuously advance. The social pattern as well as opinions on nature conservation have also changed rapidly since the first draft for an Energy Master Plan was published, and the emphasis on nature conservation constantly increases. With this in mind it is necessary to take into account that during the next years, this emphasis on nature conservation is likely to increase even further. Therefore it is important for the Industries Committee to remember that keeping natural areas in pending does not prevent future utilization, whereas areas exploited today cannot be protected tomorrow.

Unsustainable Utilization

The many negative impacts of geothermal and hydro power plants have not been discussed thoroughly enough in Iceland. This can probably be explained by the the fact that these are renewable energy sources and thereby, people tend to view them as positive options for energy production. Thus we often hear that it is better to operate energy intensive industries here, using renewable energy sources, rather than in countries where the same industries are powered by electricity produced by coals and oil. However, when these issues are looked at it more accurately, we have to be aware of the fact that despite hydro and geothermal power’s renewability, their current utilization in Iceland is by no means sustainable.

Using the hydraulic head of glacial rivers, hydro power plants require reservoirs which deplete vegetated land, the reservoirs get filled with mud and by time the area becomes an eroded land. When it comes to geothermal areas, exploited for energy production, the seizure of fluid is much greater than the inflow into the geothermal reservoir and therefore the geothermal power dries up by time. At that point the area has to rest for a time still unknown in the geothermal sciences. Thus it is clear that although we are dealing with renewable energy sources, they do not at all allow for infinite energy production, and additionally the power plants themselves entail environmental destruction. It is clear that the utilization of these resources has to be executed very carefully, and preferably, all further utilization plans should be put on hold until it is possible to learn from the experience of the plants built in the very recent past.

CO2 Emission

A lot of emphasis has been put on the idea that Iceland possesses huge amounts of “green energy,” meaning that this energy does not burn fossil fuels. Thereby it is assumed that no CO2 emission takes place. This is, however, far from the truth: in 2008 the CO2 emission from geothermal plants in Iceland amounted to 185 thousand tons, which is 6% of the country’s total CO2 emission1. Hydro dams also add to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere: big reservoirs cause the drowning of vegetated land, wherein rotting vegetation emits methane gas, increasing global warming. It is estimated that about 7% of carbon emitted by humans come from such constructions2. The sediment of glacial rivers affects the ocean’s ecosystems and nourishes algae vegetation by the seashore. Marine organisms play an important part in extracting carbon from the atmosphere; it is estimated that such vegetation extracts about 15 times more of CO2 than a woodland of the same size3. Annually, the ocean is believed to extract 11 billion tons of CO2 emitted by men4. By damming glacial rivers, entailing disturbance of their sediment and of algae vegetation, Icelanders are not only threatening the fish stocks around the country, and thus the country’s fishing industry, but also further contributing to global warming in a way which is more dangerous than deforestation, though the latter has undergone much harsher criticism worldwide than the destruction of oceanic ecosystems.

Geothermal Power Plants

In the Energy Master Plan’s second phase, possible geothermal power plants are listed in 20 out of the 25 highest seats of exploitation. If the planned hydro dams, Hvamms- and Holtavirkjun, in river Þjórsá will be kept in pending — which I rejoice as a resident of the Skeiða- og Gnúpverjahreppur region — geothermal power plants will occupy 22 out of the 25 seats. Due to the fact that so little is known about the long-term impacts of geothermal power plants, this ordering is a matter of concern. Before further construction takes place, it is necessary to wait until more experience is gained from the already operating geothermal power plants. Many of the problems connected to these plants are still unsolved, for instance the dangerous material in the plants’ run-of water as well as their polluting emissions. This has to be taken into consideration, especially near the capital area of Reykjavík where sulphur pollution is already very high5.

It also has to be taken into account that geothermal energy production is not sustainable, as an geothermal area’s heat supply eventually dries up. Their usage allows for 50 years of production, which of course is a very limited amount of time. If the plan is to use such energy for industrial development it has to be kept in mind that 50 years pass very quickly, meaning that the jobs at stake are no long-term jobs. At the same time, such a short-term utilization encroaches on future generations’ right to utilize the geothermal energy sources, not to mention their right to utilize these areas by protecting them for outdoor activities and creation of knowledge, as Iceland’s geothermal areas are unique on a global scale. For the last weeks, we have witnessed how the already exploited geothermal areas, or those where test-drilling has taken place, have not at all been utilized in a way that goes together with tourism and outdoor activities, as the areas’ appearance and environment have been damaged on a large scale6.

Economical Arguments

When it comes to economical arguments, people often tend to call for short-term employment solutions, stating that it is important to construct as many possible power plants in the shortest time in order to create as many jobs as possible. The fact, however, is that a construction-driven economy will always lead to instability, and such instability is indeed the Icelandic economy’s largest bale. Above all, Iceland’s economy needs stability and a future vision that sees further than 10 years into the future. For a stable future economy to be built, it has to happen in a sustainable way, whereas continuous aggressive exploitation of the country’s natural resources will simply lead to an era of regular economic collapses. By putting such strong emphasis on the aggressive exploitation of hydro and geothermal resources, with the appendant construction bubbles, a situation of unemployment will be sustained, broken up by occasional and differently short-lived boom periods in between. Read More

Jun 24 2011

Environmentalists Excluded from Master Plan on the Future of Nature Conservation

At the beginning of July the results of a framework programme, concerning the exploitation and protection of Iceland’s natural resources, will be presented publicly. The timing of the presentation has much more to do with demands from the labour market agents, rather than the government’s will to try to reach a settlement about the result, according to the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA, or NSÍ in Icelandic), which is highly critical of many aspects of the making of the framework programme.

One of the association’s primary criticisms is directed towards the fact that a particular committee, nominated to sort the areas in question into three different categories: protection, hold and utilization – did not include a single representative from environmentalist organizations. Whereas representatives from the energy and tourism industries, as well as the ministries of environment and industry, had seats on the committee. The viewpoint of nature conservation has thus no spokesperson in the working progress, states a press release from INCA. Read More

Jul 16 2010

Greenland’s Decision: Nature or Culture?

Miriam Rose

Climate change has made Greenland the next industrial frontier, but at what cost?



Humanity is in denial. We know that our hyperactive extraction of fuels, metals and minerals, and their dirty processing, consuming and dumping for our consumer ‘growth’ society is killing the planet and ourselves. We also know that all of these sugary treats are finite. But like an insolent toddler we continue; more and more, faster and faster – running in denial from the planetary spanking that is undoubtedly coming our way.

I have often hoped that the global emergency of climate change, combined with the inescapable reality of peak oil would wake us up from this selfish resource-gorging, and perhaps it still will before it is too late (too late: I.e tomorrow? 2012? 2020? a few months ago?). But in the meantime,  nature has given western capitalism one last laugh. As the ice drips and cracks from Greenland’s white mass it is exposing a treasure trove of minerals, metals, ores and oil (one of the highest concentrations in the world), and plentiful hydro-power to help us heat, break and alter them into things we ‘need’. Just as the candle wick flares and gutters on our oil-driven consumptive society Greenland’s bounty has given it one more chance. One last bright flame, to hide from us the surrounding darkness.

Read More

Jan 28 2010

Greenwashing Hydropower

by Aviva Imhof & Guy R. Lanza

DamBig dams have a serious record of social and environmental destruction, and there are many alternatives. So why are they still being built?

On a hot May day, a peasant farmer named Bounsouk looks out across the vast expanse of water before him, the 450-square-kilometer reservoir behind the new Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos. At the bottom of the reservoir is the land where he once lived, grew rice, grazed buffalo, and collected forest fruits, berries, and medicinal plants and spices. Now there is just water, water everywhere.

Read More

Feb 09 2009

Iceland’s Ecological Crisis: Large Scale Renewable Energy and Wilderness Destruction

From New Renaissance Magazine

By Miriam Rose

The economic issues currently causing mass demonstrations in Iceland have a less publicised ecological cousin, and one which the IMF has recently identified as part of the economic collapse. In 1995 the Ministry of Industry and Landsvirkjun, the national power company, began to advertise Iceland’s huge hydropower and geothermal energy potential. In a brochure titled “Lowest energy prices!!” they offered the cheapest, most hard working and healthiest labour force in the world, the cleanest air and purest water – as well as the cheapest energy and “a minimum of environmental red tape” to some of the world’s most well known polluting industries and corporations (such as Rio Tinto and Alcoa). This campaigning has led to the development of an ‘Energy Master Plan’ aimed at damming almost all of the major glacial rivers in Iceland, and exploiting all of the geothermal energy, for the power intensive aluminium industry. The loans taken by the Icelandic state to build large scale energy projects, and the minimal payback they have received from the industry, has been a considerable contributing factor to the economic crisis, while at the same time creating a European ecological crisis that is little heard of.

The Largest Wilderness in Europe
I first visited Iceland in 2006 and spent a week with activists from the environmental campaign Saving Iceland, a network of individuals from around Europe and Iceland who decry the fragmentation of Europe’s largest wilderness in favour of heavy industry. From these informed and passionate folk I learned of the 690 MW Kárahnjúkar dam complex being built in the untouched Eastern Central Highlands to power one Alcoa aluminium smelter in a small fishing village called Reydarfjörður. The dams formed the largest hydro-power complex in Europe, and were set to drown 57 km2 of beautiful and virtually unstudied wilderness, the most fertile area in the surrounding highlands. Ultimately it would affect 3% of Iceland’s landmass with soil erosion and river silt deprivation. They also explained how materials in the glacial silt transported to the oceans bonds with atmospheric CO2, sinking carbon. The damming of Iceland’s glacial rivers not only decreases food supply for fish stocks in the North Atlantic, but also negatively impacts oceanic carbon absorption, a significant climatic effect. After taking part in demonstrations at the construction site of the Alcoa smelter (being built by famous Iraq war profiteers Bechtel), I went to see the area for myself. Read More

Sep 07 2007

‘Glacial Rivers Reduce Pollution on Earth’ by Gudmundur Páll Ólafsson

Glacial rivers are not only the lifeblood of Iceland, but also of the whole planet.

River water contains sediment in suspension and various substances in solution; glacial rivers, especially, carry a large amount of sediment which increases as the atmosphere grows warmer.

River of Life

Rivers of Life

Glacial rivers carry the sediment out to sea, where it takes on a new and important role in binding the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) with calcium (Ca) and converting it into calcite and other carbonate minerals, immensely important in the ocean ecosystems of the world. Thus glacial rivers reduce pollution on Earth. This effect is greatest in recently formed volcanic territory such as Iceland, and the binding effect increases with rising atmospheric temperature.

Glacial rivers bind this gas which, along with some other gases, causes global warming and threatens the future of life of Earth.

When a glacial river is harnessed to generate electricity, this important function, and the binding of the greenhouse gas CO2, is diminished. What they generate is not GREEN ENERGY, as the advocates of hydro-power plants and heavy industry maintain, but BLACK ENERGY.

Dams and reservoirs hinder the function of glacial sediment in the oceans, and hence hydro-electric power plants that harness glacial rivers are far more harmful than has hitherto been believed. Read More

Aug 18 2007

Hydropower Disaster for Global Warming by Jaap Krater, Trouw daily

Trouw (daily), Netherlands, 21 January 2007

Large dams have dramatic consequences. Ecosystems are destroyed and numerous people are made homeless, often without adequate resettlement. But it is yet little known that large-scale hydro-electricity is a major contributor to global warming. The reservoirs could, despite their clean image, be even more devastating for our climate than fossil fuel plants.


narmada mapA few years ago, I spent a month in the valley of the Narmada River, to support tribal activists who have been resisting the Sardar Sarovar dam in central India for decades. These indigenous inhabitants, or adivasis, are desperate. In their struggle, inspired by Gandhi, they attempt to drown themselves when their villages are flooded. Death seems preferable to being forced to move from their valley to tin houses on infertile, barren soil. If they’re lucky, they can live on land that nobody else wants, the only available in the densely populated India. This forced resettlement, made necessary by ´progress´, is not unsimilar to what befell American Indians or the Aborigines in Australia. The consequences of mega hydro: cultures die and alcoholism, depression and violence remains. Read More

Jul 02 2007

Role of River-Suspended Material in the Global Carbon Cycle

Sigurdur R. Gislason, Eric H. Oelkers, and Árni Snorrason

Geological Society of America
Volume 34, Issue 1 (January 2006)
Article: pp. 49–52
Volume 34, Issue 1 (January 2006)
Article: pp. 49–52


1. Institute of Earth Science, University of Iceland, Sturlugata 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland, 2. Géochimie et Biogéochimie Experimentale—LMTG/Université Paul Sabatier, 14 rue Edouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse, France, 3. National Energy Authority, Grensásvegi 9, 108 Reykjavík, Iceland

The reaction of Ca derived from silicate weathering with CO2 in the world’s oceans to form carbonate minerals is a critical step in long-term climate moderation. Ca is delivered to the oceans primarily via rivers, where it is transported either as dissolved species or within suspended material. The relative importance for climate moderation of riverine dissolved Ca vs. suspended Ca transport stems from the total Ca flux and its climate dependence. Data in the literature suggest that, within uncertainty, global riverine dissolved Ca flux is equal to suspended material Ca flux. To determine how these fluxes depend on temperature and rainfall, a 40 yr field study was performed on 4 catchments in northeastern Iceland: Jökulsá á Fjöllum at Grímsstadir, Jökulsá á Dal at Brú, Jökulsá á Dal at Hjardarhagi, and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal at Hóll. Suspended material Ca flux depends more on seasonal and annual temperatures and rainfall variation than does dissolved Ca flux in all four catchments. For example, the average difference between the annual maximum and minimum daily suspended Ca flux for the Jökulsá á Dal at Brú is four orders of magnitude, whereas the difference for dissolved Ca flux is only approximately one order of magnitude. Similarly, the annual dissolved Ca flux for this river varies by a factor of 2.6, whereas its annual suspended Ca flux varies by a factor of 7.1. Because suspended material Ca flux is more dependent on climate, it provides a stronger negative feedback for stabilizing Earth’s temperature through the greenhouse effect. Read More

Feb 15 2006

14 March Day of Action against Dams, and for Rivers, Water and Life

From International Rivers Network

14 March is the International Day of Action against Dams, and for Rivers, Water and Life.

Inspire better stewardship of our rivers by taking bold action. Every year on at this time, people around the world lift their voices to celebrate victories such as dam removal and river restoration; to demand improvement in policies and practices of decision makers; and to teach others about issues threatening rivers and communities. Join us for the International Day of Action. The rivers cannot speak for themselves.

Take action for Rivers, Water and Life!!

For more information see: www.irn.org