Environmental organization Landvernd has expressed deep concern over the condition of the Hengill geothermal area after the news broke yesterday that the Hellisheiðarvirkjun power plant near Reykjavík cannot harness sufficient energy to maintain full production levels.
Archive photo: Páll Stefánsson/Iceland Review.
Landvernd has repeatedly warned against the too aggressive exploitation of geothermal energy, pointing out the difficulty of predicting the lifetime and production capacity of geothermal power plants, ruv.is reports.
The organization stated in a press release that it is common to assume that the energy of geothermal areas lasts 50 years. However, to fulfill conditions on sustainability, it would be more natural to set a longer time frame or geothermal areas and emphasize the diverse use of the energy source instead of only exploiting it to produce electricity.
Landvernd believes that geothermal areas should no longer be used to produce electricity for aluminum smelters and other energy-intensive large-scale industries as they require extensive exploitation and the rapid development of power plants which does not harmonize with the nature of geothermal areas.
The organization requests that sustainability is taken into account when the protection and energy exploitation of geothermal areas is planned, as well as the effect of sulfur pollution and problems concerning the disposal of excess water from power plants.
Reykjavík City councilperson Sóley Tómasdóttir, who represents the Left Green Movement on the board of Reykjavík Energy (OR), the operator of Hellisheiðarvirkjun, told RÚV that aggressive exploitation is the problem the plant is now facing.
Sóley stated that the solution is not to transport more energy to the power plant from Hverahlíð, as has been suggested, but rather to scale down electricity production.
“We must reduce electricity production to reach our goal of sustainable exploitation, which is the demand of the 21st century and that of future generations,” Sóley declared.
The largest single buyer of energy from OR is Norðurál – Century Aluminum, which requires 244 MW annually for its smelter on Grundartangi. Hellisheiðarvirkjun’s full capacity was 303 MW until the end of last year. Since then, it has dropped to 276 MW.
Scientists estimate that given the current circumstances, the capacity will continue to drop by six MW per year on average.
OR’s potential loss due to this development is ISK 163 million (USD 1.4 million, EUR 1 million) per year as OR would have to buy energy from Landsvirkjun, the national power company, to honor its energy agreements. Without any action, the loss would double every year, Fréttablaðið reports.
Minister of Industry Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir told Stöð 2 that it is known that the exploitation of geothermal energy requires time and therefore the best solution is to combine geothermal and hydropower plants.