Electricity Shortage “Unacceptable” Says Environment Minister

Low cost of electricity in Iceland compared with the rest of Europe

Icelandic fish processing plants will need to power their operations with oil and diesel generators for the third winter in a row due to an electricity shortage, Vísir reports. This burning of oil and diesel cancels out all of the emissions saved by electric cars in Iceland thus far. Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson says the lack of green energy is unacceptable in a country that’s aiming for a green energy exchange.

Guðlaugur Þór says that the current shortage is the result of very few power plant construction projects in Iceland over the past 15-20 years. “This is not acceptable at all and we must do everything we can to resolve this as soon as possible,” he told reporters. The Minister criticised the red tape that delayed the approval of the construction of new power plant projects and called for streamlining the system.

Read More: 2021 Electricity Shortage Impacts Local Industry

Last June, the Environmental and Natural Resources Board of Appeal revoked the construction permit for the proposed Hvammsvirkjun hydropower plant in South Iceland, after the local council decided to review new information on the plant’s potential environmental impacts. The Board of Appeal emphasised that the National Energy Authority (Orkustofnun) had not followed the guidelines of the Water Council when preparing to issue a permit to the hydropower plant.

The Hvammsvirkjun plant would have an estimated capacity of 95 MW. For comparison, Iceland’s largest hydropower plants are the Kárahnjúkar and Búrfell plants, with respective capacities of 690 KW and 270 KW. Both were built to provide power to aluminium smelters. Hellisheiði Power Station is Iceland’s largest geothermal power plant, with a capacity of 303 MW.

Data centres use more electricity than Icelandic homes

There are also those who are sceptical of the need for additional power plants in Iceland, shifting the attention to energy-intensive industries that arguably contribute little to the country’s GDP. Snæbjörn Guðmundsson of the nature conservation organisation Náttúrugrið has expressed concern that the proposed Hvammsvirkjun hydropower plant would be used towards Bitcoin mining, a growing industry in Iceland. The National Power Company has stated that it would not build power plants for the express purpose of providing energy to Bitcoin mining companies.

Data centres (of which Bitcoin mining centres are a subcategory) in Iceland use 30% more energy than all Icelandic homes put together, and while the percentage of this energy that goes toward Bitcoin mining is not public knowledge, it could be as high as 90%.

Icelanders Buying More Locally-Grown Christmas Trees

Christmas tree santa Iceland

Though imported trees still make up the majority of Christmas tree sales in Iceland, locally grown trees are steadily growing in popularity, Bændablaðið reports. Imported Christmas trees decreased from 37,147 to 24,441 between 2019 and 2020, while local tree sales rose from 7,225 to 8,134. More families are buying their trees from local forestry associations, where they can pick and even cut down their own trees.

Ragnhildur Freysteinsdóttir, an environmental scientist at the Icelandic Forestry Association, told RÚV that cutting down your own tree has certain advantages. “Some people may want tall and thin, or short and fat [trees]. They maybe don’t want the totally standard trees that you get at the store. So it’s an opportunity for them.”

Buying local has benefits

As Bændablaðið points out, the benefits of buying local Christmas trees are many. Purchasing one tree enables local foresters to plant dozens more, with a net positive effect on carbon storage. The Reykjavík Forestry Association (Skógræktarfélag Reykjavíkur), for example, planted 50 trees for each one sold last year. Local trees also carry a smaller carbon footprint in other ways: due to Iceland’s climate and geography, local foresters rarely use pesticides in their cultivation. Furthermore, imported trees present a risk of bringing in pests that could potentially affect Icelandic vegetation.

See Also: Húsavík Residents Vote on Town Christmas Tree

Among local trees, the most popular species is the beach pine, accounting for 62.4% of local Christmas tree sales last year. The sitka spruce comes next with 14.3% of sales, followed by red spruce at 11.4%.

Year in Review 2020: Nature

Spanning across new national parks, devastating mudslides, and ambitious climate goals, here’s a summary of Iceland’s biggest nature news stories of 2020.

National Parks and Nature Conservation

Several of Iceland’s popular natural areas were officially protected this year by the Ministry for the Environment, including the Geysir area and Goðafoss waterfall in North Iceland. Other big conservation projects are in the works: In the Westfjords, Dynjandi waterfall was given to the state as a gift and a national park is to be established around it. Snæfellsnes National Park is also set to be expanded.

Possibly the biggest nature story of the year is the proposal to make Iceland’s Central Highland into Europe’s largest national park, covering around 30% of Iceland. This would also make it the national park that represents the highest percentage of the total area of any country, with over 40,000 km² of the total 103,000 km² surface area of Iceland. A bill outlining the park’s establishment was introduced in Parliament by Iceland’s Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson on November 30. However, it is still being hotly debated in parliament and has yet to be passed. Learn more about the proposed Highland National Park.

Magma and Earthquakes in Southwest Iceland

In late January, Icelandic authorities declared a state of uncertainty due to possible magma accumulation a few kilometres west of Þorbjörn mountain. Land rise and earthquake swarms were detected in the area, suggesting magma was accumulating underground. Nearby residents prepared for a possible eruption, though authorities stated it was more likely the activity would calm without one, and that has indeed been the case. Land rise under the mountain stopped by early May, though experts say there is an “active long-term process” ongoing in the area and the possibility of renewed activity cannot be discounted.

Storms and Avalanches

Three large avalanches swept across the Westfjords in January, hitting Flateyri and Súgandafjörður. Their timing was chilling: they occurred one day before the 25th anniversary of a deadly avalanche in the same area that killed 14. Though no one was killed, the avalanches caused property damage and one 13-year-old girl was rescued after being buried in snow for half an hour. Iceland Review interviewed photographer Ragnar Axelsson, who witnessed and captured on film the aftermath of both the 1995 and 2020 events.

No Icelandic winter passes without at least one winter storm. Extreme weather on Valentine’s Day caused travel disruptions, power outages, and property damage. ICE-SAR teams across the country responded to nearly 800 calls in a single day due to the storm.

Resource Extraction

While Iceland’s government protected many natural areas this year, others may soon be used for new resource extraction projects. A large area in South Iceland containing historic site Hjörleifshöfði was sold to a sand mining company while one Canadian mining company acquired all the rights to gold mining in Iceland. St-Georges Eco-Mining hopes to use robots and geothermal energy to mine “eco-friendly” gold on the island.

Climate Goals

In December 2020, Iceland’s government revised its climate goals, stating it would now aim for a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030, rather than 40% as was decided at the beginning of the current government’s term. The revised policy means Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 55% lower in 2030 than they were in 1990. Iceland plans to become carbon neutral by 2040. Though it seems to be acting on climate goals now, Iceland’s Environment Minister stated in November that the country could owe billions due to not fulfilling its previous commitments to the Kyoto protocol.

Seyðisfjörður Mudslides

The year ended on a tragic note for residents of Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland when a series of mudslides destroyed more than a dozen homes and historic buildings in the town. Luckily no fatalities resulted from the catastrophic events, though the town was evacuated and many local families did not get to return to their homes for Christmas. The government has pledged its support in rebuilding the town, though it will likely take months to even assess the extent of the damage.

Iceland Revises Its Climate Goals: 55% Emissions Reduction By 2030

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

The Icelandic state will aim for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, not 40% as was decided at the beginning of the current government’s term. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will present three new climate goals toward this aim at the United Nations summit tomorrow. The revised policy means Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 55% lower in 2030 than they were in 1990.

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir has called climate change the biggest challenge facing society today, adding that it’s important to limit its negative impact and ensure the future of humanity and the environment as a whole.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral By 2040

Iceland’s emission reduction goals tie into its participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. Countries that are a party to the agreement are expected to revise their goals every five years. It has become clear to officials that the current goals will not be sufficient to keep the climate’s warming within 2°C and climate actions must go further. Other countries that are party to the agreement, such as China, Japan, and the UK, have also revised their climate goals to cut emissions further within a shorter timeframe.

The Climate Ambition Summit will be live-streamed on Saturday afternoon at 2.00pm UTC.

Landsvirkjun Announces Plan to Become Carbon Neutral by 2025

Today, Landsvirkjun – the National Power Company of Iceland – will introduce plans to become carbon neutral by 2025, RÚV reports. According to Hörður Árnarson, CEO of Landsvirkjun, the company has monitored greenhouse gas emissions closely over the past ten years. Landsvirkjun’s initiative forms a part of the government’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2040.

Emissions  Halved Since 2005

In an interview on Rás 2 this morning, Hörður Árnason stated that Landsvirkjun’s emissions have halved from 2005 when greenhouse gas emissions were approximately 45 thousand tonnes per year. According to Hörður, today Landsvirkjun emits approximately 22 thousand tonnes annually. Most of the emissions can be traced to geothermal power stations, especially Krafla. Landsvirkjun aims to reduce emissions from these sources, while also cleaning emissions.

“The steam is separated and mixed with fluid whereupon it is injected back into the site of its retrieval … it’s not a simple operation and it involves considerable innovation. We believe that such efforts, however, will lead to an accumulation of knowledge that Icelandic engineering firms and others can use to sell to foreign parties.”

A Comprehensive and Costly Initiative

Hörður stated that the operations will be comprehensive and costly. “It’s a big project that we divide into three parts. Prioritisation is key. First, it is important to prevent emissions, which Landsvirkjun has done by adopting an internal carbon price. We’re probably the first company in Iceland to have done so. For all of our projects, we equate greenhouse gas emissions with cost; for every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions we estimate that it costs us approximately $33,” Hörður stated, admitting that the carbon price was relatively low. The second most important aspect of Landsvirkjun’s project is reducing emissions, Hörður added, with carbon sequestration coming third.

Landsvrkjun aims to update all of its cars, machinery, and engines so that in ten years they will be powered by electricity, methane, or hydrogen.

Iceland’s Largest Producer of Electricity

Landsvirkjun’s presentation will be held at Nauthóll at 2.00pm today. The panel of speakers will include Halldór Þorgeirsson, Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council; Kristín Linda Árnadóttir, Deputy CEO of Landsvirkjun; and Eggert Benedikt Guðmundsson, Director of Grænvangur, among others.

Landsvirkjun is Iceland’s largest electricity generator and one of the ten largest producers of renewable energy in Europe. Landsvirkjun operates 17 power plants in Iceland concentrated on five main areas of operation. It is owned entirely by the Icelandic state.

Akureyri Builds 13th Gas Station

While Reykjavík has one gas station per 3,000 residents and London, England has one per 10,000, Akureyri, North Iceland, has one gas station per 1,500 residents. Reykjavík City Council has implemented an action plan to halve the number of gas stations in the city by 2025, Akureyri is working in the opposite direction, RÚV reports.

Akureyri is the largest town in North Iceland, with a population of just under 19,000. Despite the Icelandic government’s plans to institute a total ban on new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, the town is currently constructing its 13th gas station, on Sjafnargata street. Akureyri City Councillor Sóley Björk Stefánsdóttir of the Left Green Movement says car culture prevails in the town. Earlier this week, children and those with respiratory conditions were warned to stay inside due to high levels of particulate pollution.

Car culture dominates

“There is no clear spirit within the local council to address the issue and think about how we’re going to use this space that’s being covered by gas stations,” Sóley remarked. “There is a huge emphasis on car ownership here and that everyone needs to drive. I forgot my lunch at home and I’m on my way to a meeting and I realised I had to turn around to get a banana because I can’t buy a banana downtown in Akureyri, but I can take gas.”

Tryggvi Þór Ingvarsson, chairman of the planning council, says that the reduction of space at Olís gas station on Tryggvabraut resulted in the decision to allocate the company a plot of land on Sjafnargata. When asked whether he believes the number of gas stations in Akureyri was reasonable, Tryggvi responded: “Yes and no, it has a historic explanation. It may not be reasonable for there to be 1,500 people per each gas station, but it’s not necessarily unreasonable either.”

Reykjavík Receives Environmental Innovation Grant

Reykjavík pond

The City of Reykjavík and Reykjavík Energy have received an ISK 160 million ($1.3m/€1.2m) grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Technological Development Programme. The grant is used toward carbon offsetting and energy exchange projects in cities.

Two European cities, Espoo in Finland and Leipzig in Germany, have the role of developing carbon offsetting and energy exchange solutions, while five other European cities, including Reykjavík, test-run the solutions in a variety of environments.

The project focuses on energy exchange in transport, and the development of smart and energy-friendly infrastructure. The project also touches on the transformation of cities through the interaction between authorities, administrations, and stakeholders, while the involvement of the public is another key element. The grant is distributed over a five-year period.

Green Tax Would Encourage Recycling

A proposed “green tax” would make it more expensive for landfills in Iceland to bury garbage than to recycle, Vísir reports. The landfilling of waste is currently responsible for 7% of Iceland’s overall greenhouse emissions.

Minister of the Environment and Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson says there are currently two kinds of green incentives on the table. One of these is to levy a tax on landfilling waste. The other is to tax the gas used in the refrigeration machinery associated with the landfilling process. Guðmundur Ingi says that this gas is responsible for around 7% of Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Green taxes such as these are intended to encourage individuals and businesses to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviours and also increase recycling around the country. Guðmundur hopes that a green tax will help to reduce Iceland’s greenhouse emissions and thereby reduce the country’s overall climate impact.

“These are, in my opinion, very important environmental initiatives…by landfilling, we’re creating far too many greenhouse emissions, but with these taxes, it will be more expensive to landfill and more competitive to recycle,” he concluded.

The green tax was one of the financial policy proposals discussed in parliament on Thursday. It’s hoped that it will be implemented in phases in the next year.

Icelandic National Church to Neutralise Carbon Emissions

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

The Church Council of Iceland’s National Church has approved an extensive environmental action plan proposed at a synod (clergy conference) earlier this year, Vísir reports. The plan includes forestry and wetland restoration as well as installation of electric vehicle charging stations on church lands. Clergy also seconded the Icelandic Environmental Association’s call for the government to declare a climate emergency.

The Church Council will now organise an evaluation of which land in its ownership is suitable for large-scale forestry and wetland restoration. These carbon-binding projects are a step toward carbon-neutralising emission from transportation related to church work within the next three years. The Council also agreed to install charging stations for electric vehicles at four locations this year: two in Reykjavík; one in Skálholt, South Iceland; and one in Hólar, North Iceland. Parishes will be encouraged to install charging stations, and others will be installed at vicarages according to demand.

Clergy are also urging airline companies and tour operators that sell flights to and from Iceland to include an option for carbon offsetting trips in the ticket-buying procedure.