Jun 29 2008

Húsavík Contract Signed Behind Closed Doors

Today, Alcoa, the Ministry of Industry and Norðurþing district council signed a research contract for Alcoa’s planned aluminium smelter in Húsavík (Bakki), north Iceland. The contract allows for the furthering of research into the efficiency of the smelter construction and into the energy production capability of the geothermal areas in the north. The smelter is supposed to be run on geothermal energy only.

The original plan is to build a smelter with the production capacity of 250 thousand tons per year, which means that 400 MW of geothermal energy will be needed. But if more energy will be found, Alcoa will not think twice about enlarging the smelter. “The bigger the better” said Bernt Reitan, assistant director of Alcoa after the signature.

Landsvirkjun (national energy company) is now drilling for geothermal energy in three different areas in the north: Þeystareykir, Krafla and Bjarnarflag. A local environmental organization from the north, Samtök um náttúruvernd á Norðurlandi (SUNN), demanded an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before the construction started last year but had been denied. The test drilling in Þeystareykir has now entailed a huge pollution lagoon in the area where hot, toxic water is being pumped directly onto grassland instead of being pumped back into the boreholes. Is this what they call Green Energy?

By signing the contract, Össur Skarphéðinsson, the minister of industry, has now once again broken his political party’s environmental policy. During the election campaign for last years parliamentary elections, Samfylkingin (The Social Democratic Alliance which now forms the government alongside the conservative Sjálfstæðisflokkur party) promised to complety halt all new heavy industrial projects for at least the next five years whilst a report on the protection and usage of natural resources would be made.

Now, when in government, the party has broken its environmental policy (which is named ‘Beautiful Iceland’) again and again. Skarphéðinsson and other ministers from Samfylkingin have already announced that they will not stand against the damming of Þjórsá River and have also spoken positively about the new Century Aluminum smelter in Helguvík.

The Icelandic press was allowed to film Alcoa´s Husavik signature meeting until the signature itself took place. The press was at this point literally thrown out and the contract was signed behind closed doors. Asked by journalists about that decision, Skarphéðinsson’s assistant, Einar Karl Haraldsson, replied aggressively, “why the fuck does some signature matter?”

Well… the signing of a contract is what really matters, isn’t it? If the press was allowed in there until the signature, what was it that the people of Iceland were not allowed to see?

The final decision regarding Alcoa’s aluminium smelter in Húsavík is supposed to be clear in the end of the year 2009 but Skarphéðinsson hopes it will take less time and be made in about twelve months.

The EIA for the smelter has not been made and Alcoa has not received permission for the smelters greenhouse gass (GHG) output. The power to set a quota for these emissions lies with Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, the minister of environment, who seems to be the only minister likely to stand against the further development of the aluminium industry in Iceland.

The Icelandic media quotes a Dow Jones News interview with Geir H. Haarde, the prime minister of Iceland, who said that because of Iceland´s economic hardship, the government would be more likely to accept Alcoa’s smelter.

The government is using the economic depression as a reason for damming more rivers and building new aluminium smelters.