Minister of Industry Össur Skarphédinsson has accused Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company, of prioritizing south Iceland by using his ministry’s work methods as an excuse for their own delay of providing energy for heavy industry in north Iceland.
“It is very shameful on behalf of Landsvirkjun to use the estimation of the Ministry of Industry [that drilling for geothermal energy] in Gjástykki should go through environmental impact assessment as a cover to excuse their own arrear to provide energy for heavy industry in Bakki [near Húsavík],” Skarphédinsson told Fréttabladid.
CEO of Landsvirkjun Fridrik Sophusson told Fréttabladid on Saturday that the environmental impact assessment jeopardized the project of an aluminum smelter in Bakki.
Sophusson also said that it had taken the Ministry of Industry an unusually long time to estimate whether an environmental impact assessment of an experimental drilling hole for geothermal energy in Gjábakki was required or not.
Apparently, the ministry received a request to estimate the situation of Gjábakki in April but didn’t announce until last week that an assessment would be necessary.
“Landsvirkjun has said that only 30 megawatts of the 400 required for the aluminum smelter in Bakki should come from Gjástykki,” Sophusson explained. “And the municipalities involved have the clear policy of having Gjástykki as a final resort and that the energy there shouldn’t be harnessed at all if there is enough energy elsewhere.”
“So the question whether we drill in Gjástykki this year or next does not matter when we look at the big picture,” Sophusson stated.
“The fact is, however, that Landsvirkjun can be blamed for making Húsavík residents wait while being busy with finding energy for a much more debated heavy industry project in south Iceland [the planned aluminum smelter in Helguvík],” Sophusson added.
“And it is my opinion that the lesser interests of the urban area have been prioritized above the greater interests of Húsavík residents. On their behalf I would be more worried about how they are going to find enough energy for the smelter in Bakki while the emphasis is like this,” Sophusson said.
Sophusson dismissed Skarphédinsson’s accusations that Landsvirkjun is prioritizing south Iceland. “That is evident considering that we have spent nearly [ISK] 4 billion [USD 51 million, EUR 32 million] to prepare geothermal energy plants in north Iceland but little more than [ISK] 2 billion for preparations for new power plants in Thórsá [river].”
Skarphédinsson admits that it took his ministry a long time to submit an estimate on the situation at Gjábakki. “But the case was complicated and the information which I and the ministry needed to reach a factual conclusion was not available in the announcement from Landsvirkjun.”
Skarphédinsson recently extended a declaration of intent with Alcoa in regards to an aluminum smelter near Húsavík and Minister of Commerce Björgvin G. Sigurdsson recently broke ground for a smelter in Helguvík.
Their party, the Social Democrats, suffered heavy criticism as a result since they had announced before the general elections in May 2007 that they wanted to put heavy industry projects on hold.
Meanwhile, land owners near Thjórsá river have taken Landsvirkjun to court because of rights to harness energy in the river, delaying the construction of three new hydropower plants.
Environmental protection group Saving Iceland is currently organizing protests against harnessing energy for aluminum smelters in Iceland.
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