Jun 29 2008

Þjórsá Dams Just Around the Corner – RT-Alcan Among Energy Buyers

Last Monday, June 23rd, the district council of Skeiða- and Gnúperjahreppur agreed on a major change in the district plan. The change includes implementing the construction of two of the three dams Landsvirkjun (national energy company) plans to build in the lower Þjórsá River; Holtavirkjun and Hvammsvirkjun. The plan is now being reviewed by the National Planning Agency. The decision to build these dams was taken despite a huge local opposition in the area. Right now one of the landowners is taking the Icelandic state to court, accused of bypassing laws on local democratic agreement to these projects. According Sól á Suðurlandi (a grassroots organization fighting against the dams) more landowners might follow this figurehead.

Landsvirkjun has not applied for the construction permit, which should be given by the minster of industry, Össur Skarphéðinsson but Skarphéðinsson has already announced that he will not stand in the way for the construction of the three Þjórsá dams. Friðrik Sophusson, the director of Landsvirkjun said recently that Landsvirkjun would consider to use forced expropriation if the discussions between the company and the landowners will not lead to an positive agreement for Landsvirkjun. The power to use expropriations lies also in the hands of Skarphéðinsson who is from the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin). The Alliance has now broken most of their election promises concerning environmental issues.

Despite including the dams in the district plan, the district councils do not have legal right to make the decision alone, and without the permission of locals. Sophusson says that Landsvirkjun is still discussing with landowners by the rivers, including the farmers who own the water rights of Þjórsá themselves as well as the farmers who’s lands water rights fall under the old Titan-agreements (an old water agreement, which we cannot yet find the content of).

At the same time Landsvirkjun, the Icelandic state and Flóahreppur district are fighting in court about these particular water rights and the Titan-agreements. Landsvirkjun claims to own the water right according to the agreements, while Flóahreppur says the rights are in the hands of the Icelandic state. Even though there are no clues as to the outcome of this court case, Sophusson says he hopes that it will be “solved” soon so the dam constructions can start as soon as possible.

So once again this happens in Iceland. Construction is supposed to start, long before all necessary permits and contracts have been made, and with no real signs which hint at any conclusion. How many times more will the energy and heavy-industry companies play this corruption game without the people standing up against them?

Among buyers of the possible energy from the Þjórsá dams are Verne Holding (who plans to build a data center in Reykjanes), and Rio Tinto Alcan, to expand their aluminium smelter in Hafnarfjörður.

Rio Tinto Alcan hopes to increase its production by about 45 thousand tons per year without enlarging the smelter. To do so the company needs the energy from Þjórsá, but refuses to tell how much energy is needed. In May 2007 the people of Hafnarfjörður voted against the enlargement of Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter in a public referendum. During the election campaign the company tried to scare the inhabits of Hafnarfjörður, saying that if the smelter would not be enlarged it would not live longer than more than four or five years. Now, there seems to be a drastic change in their plans.

During the election campaign for the parliament elections last year, the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylking), which now forms the Icelandic Government with a conservative right wing party (Sjálfstæðisflokkur), promised a complete freeze on heavy industry as a part of their environmental policy coined “Beautiful Iceland”.

But now, when in the government, there is now sign of a stop to heavy industry. A couple of weeks ago, Björgvin Gíslason, the minister of finance joined the lack-of-permission party of Century Aluminium and now Össur Skarphéðinsso, the minister of industry, seems to be just on the steps of giving a permission for the Þjórsá dams.

There is a good reason to stand up and act against this corruption – Saving Iceland’s protest camps starts 12th of July!