Green Energy or Giant Eyesore? East Iceland Residents Debate Wind Turbines

Energy provider Orkusalan intends to erect wind turbines in the Útherað district in East Iceland, RÚV reports. But while supporters welcome these as a new source of green energy, detractors say the move will create visual pollution in the area, and may not be as green an energy source as advertised.

Orkusalan received a permit to erect a 50-meter [164-ft] experimental mast at the Lagarfoss hydroelectric power plant in order to assess wind energy in the rural district. Eventually, the company intends to build two 150-160-meter [492-525-ft] wind turbines that would be able to produce just under 10 MW of electric energy.

Representatives of the Centre Party and the Left-Greens on the local home council opposed granting Orkusalan the initial permit, while representatives of the Progressive Party, the Independence Party, and Austurlistinn were in favour, saying that this was a way for the municipality to play its part in Iceland’s shift to green energy. The district’s current land use plan does not permit wind turbines, so Orkusalan’s plans may require an environmental assessment.

In their dissent, the Left-Green representative said that the turbines would create very little financial benefit for the region, and was seconded by the Centre Party representative, who said that wind energy was unreliable and not as green as claimed. The Centre rep continued that Orkusalan also had a permit to research the construction of a hydropower plant in the region, which would potentially generate up to 140 MW of energy, which would be more worth investigating. Both representatives said that an assessment needed to be done as to whether wind power stations belong in the district at all.

Voicing the concerns of some locals, Úthérað resident Þorsteinn Gústafsson wrote an op-ed for the regional paper Austurfréttir, citing a Norwegian and Scottish study that found that the paddles on windmills shake loose as much as 62 kilos [137 pounds] of microplastic a year, specifically fiberglass particles that crack from the edges of the paddles and contain the toxin BPA. Þorsteinn also said the question of visual pollution was not insignificant, as the wind turbines would be visible throughout the district.

Parliament to Vote on a Possible Revote on Thursday

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

Parliament will vote on the validity of the recount in the northwest constituency on Thursday, Mbl.is reports. The Credentials Committee will convene again today to finalize its report.

An awkward reshuffling of seats

On Sunday, September 26, Iceland briefly celebrated a female-majority parliament – before a recount redistributed five of the parliament’s 63 seats and thereby invalidated what would also have been a landmark election in Europe.

After the recount, several candidates filed charges against election proceedings in the northwest constituency on the basis that the election supervision committee had failed to seal the votes after it had completed the initial count. Furthermore, the plaintiffs complained that the committee had left the ballots unattended at Hotel Borgarnes after election staff went home. Subsequently, a special committee was established to draw up a report on the controversy and to

The Credentials Committee to make two proposals

Following weeks of discussions and a field trip to Hotel Borgarnes, the Credentials Committee convened yesterday to finalize its report. The committee did not manage to finish the report, however, and will be meeting again today. Parliament will vote on the issue on Thursday.

Two proposals will be submitted, according to Birgir Ármansson, the committee’s chairman, who in an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, refused to comment on the exact nature of the proposals. As noted by Mbl.is, at least three options are possible: a second vote in the constituency, a confirmation of the recount, or a third count.

Birgir added that each parliamentarian must decide whether or not to take a stance on the possibility of a second vote in the northwest constituency. According to parliamentary law, Birgir observed, all of the 63 parliamentarians who have received an election certificate (i.e. kjörbréf) will be eligible to vote. Given the obvious conflict of interest, however, not everyone agrees whether the five parliamentarians who gained seats following the recount should participate in the vote on Thursday.

One candidate, who lost his seat following the recount – and who subsequently filed a legal complaint against the recount – has stated that he will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if the second count is made to stand.

MAST Reviewing Footage of Mistreated Mares in Youtube Doc

Blood Mare

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority is currently reviewing footage from a Youtube documentary that features clips of Icelandic mares being mistreated during blood-collection procedures. The conditions and conduct caught on camera are “utterly unacceptable,” says the Chairman of the Horse Breeders Association of Iceland.

Animal cruelty captured on hidden cameras

On November 19, Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB, Switzerland) and the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF, Germany) posted a documentary to Youtube under the heading “Iceland – Land of the 5,000 Blood Mares.”

The documentary reports on the activities within so-called “blood farms” in Iceland, where blood is drawn from mares in early pregnancy to extract ECG (previously known as pregnant mare’s serum gonadotropin or PMSG): a hormone commonly used in concert with progestogens to induce ovulation in livestock prior to artificial insemination.

The documentary features footage from hidden cameras showing workers beating and shouting at horses. The filmmakers claim to have discovered “widespread animal-welfare violations” in Iceland, which run counter to claims made by pharmaceutical companies on the nature of blood-collection procedures in the country.

As noted by MAST, the extraction of ECG from pregnant mares is a growing industry in Iceland; blood from almost 5,400 mares, on 119 farms, has been drawn in 2021.

Affiliated parties react

Following coverage of the documentary in the media, various parties connected to blood-collection farms in Iceland have commented publicly. In a press release on Sunday, Ísteka – which manufactures pharmaceuticals from the blood of mares – denounced the treatment of the animals in the documentary:

“Ísteka disapproves strongly of sourcing practices that do not comply with the high animal welfare standards we work by and that we recommend to our customers and colleagues. We have immediately started an internal supplier review to investigate the allegations and cannot comment any further on this at this time.”

In an interview with Vísir, farmer Sæunn Þórarinsdóttir criticized the footage recorded on her property on the grounds that it lacked context. “None of my operations have anything to do with what is seen in that video,” she stated.  Sæunn further alleged that the documentarians misrepresented reality on several occasions. (Early on in the video, for example, the documentarians say that they’re being followed by a veterinarian driving a grey jeep. “The veterinarian in question was simply on his way home,” Sæunn told Vísir.)

“The footage is horrible to watch and not at all an accurate depiction of our operations. We have a complete ban on violence; I would personally beat anyone who laid a finger on my horses,” Sæunn remarked.

MAST investigates

In a public statement released yesterday, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) announced that it was reviewing the footage seen in the documentary. “The procedures caught on film appear to violate operational conditions, which stipulate the horses’ welfare be ensured.”

In the statement, MAST stressed that the supervision of blood-collection procedures is a priority. “Since the regulation on the welfare of horses came into effect in 2014, MAST has established clear conditions for blood-extraction procedures performed on pregnant mares, and we have gradually ramped up supervision.”

According to the statement, MAST inspectors pay annual visits to a fifth of blood-collecting farms in Iceland during the time that procedures are being performed. “If, during inspections, serious deviations from protocol are noted, operations are stopped; the operations of five facilities has been halted since 2014.”

“No stone must be left unturned”

In an interview with the radio station Rás 2 this morning, Sveinn Steinarsson, Chairman of the Horse Breeders Association of Iceland, stated that it was clear that the horses in the video had been mistreated: blood-collection is a sensitive procedure that demands great care.

“The extraction of blood from pregnant mares has been practiced for almost 40 years and the fact that the operating conditions are, after all this time – and given especially how extensive these operations have become – so unsatisfactory is utterly unacceptable,” Sveinn remarked in the interview.

While he condemned the mistreatment of mares in the documentary, Sveinn warned against generalization: “I expect that conditions are acceptable in most places, but, as it stands, our discussion is beginning with the lowest-common denominator.”

Sveinn concluded by stating that those who were charged with the supervision of blood-collection procedures in Iceland had many questions to answer. “As far as what is depicted in the documentary, I expect no stone to be left unturned.”

This article was updated at 15:17.

Parliament Reconvenes Following Lengthy Hiatus

Opening ceremony

Parliament reconvened in an opening ceremony this afternoon. The first item on the agenda was the election of members to the Credentials Committee.

Fewer present than usual

Following a lengthy hiatus, which began in early July, Parliament reconvened this afternoon. The opening of Parliament started at 1.30 pm with service at the Reykavík Cathedral. Only a few guests were invited to attend in light of this most infectious wave of the pandemic (204 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed yesterday).

Following the service, the President of Iceland, the Bishop of Iceland, the Speaker of Alþingi, government ministers, and MPs processed to the Parliament House.

The longest-serving MP, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Chairman of the Reform Party, directed the first legislative session and gave a speech commemorating the life and career of former MP and Minister Jón Sigurðsson, who passed away in September of this year.

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson also gave a speech before Parliament in which, among other things, he discussed society’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guðni stated that “extremism and exaggeration often accompany the free exchange of ideas but that the Icelanders had been so fortunate as to show solidarity against a common threat.” The President added that the freedom to infect others was a “perversion of rights.”

Likely that the recount will stand

Parliament’s first order of business was the election of a Credentials Committee, which will succeed the Preparatory Credentials Committee. The committee has spent the past few weeks investigating election procedures in the northwest constituency, where a recount saw the reshuffling of parliamentary seats following the election on September 25.

Parliament adjourned and will not convene again until Thursday. On that day, the Credentials Committee is expected to submit its proposals to a vote. Birgir Ármansson, Director of the Credentials Committee, told RÚV today that he expects a majority of MPs to vote to confirm the recount in the northwest constituency and thereby confirm the credentials of all 63 members of Parliament.