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%.

Environment Agency: Fox Hunting No Longer Serves Its Purpose

The Environment Agency of Iceland says that fox hunting in Iceland no longer serves its intended purpose—to protect sheep and birdlife—and is costing the state and local municipalities more and more every year. Fréttablaðið reports that 56,000 foxes have been hunted in Iceland in the past decade, with a cost of almost a billion krónur [$7.65 million; €6.65 million] to the state.

A ‘mythological battle’

The arctic fox lives in polar regions around the world and is currently listed as a species of least concern by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1979, there were only 1,200 of the animals in Iceland, but the population grew to just under 9,000 by 2007. Between the years of 2008 and 2010, there was a 30% drop in population, but it has been relatively stable in recent years, even as hunting has increased. As of this summer, it was estimated that there were roughly 9,000 – 10,000 Arctic foxes in Iceland. The species is protected within the confines of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, but outside of these bounds, hunting the animal is allowed, and even encouraged monetarily.

“Icelanders have given the arctic fox many names which could be related to the ‘mythological battle’ between the humans and the foxes since the early decades of the settlement 1100 years ago,” explains the Arctic Fox Centre. “At first, foxes were trapped for the valuable fur but soon the competition for the few resources became too complicated and the foxes were killed to protect lambs and other stock animals. Nowadays the foxes are still hunted throughout the country, where it is believed that protection of livestock or eider farms is needed. Winter hunting is also conducted in all regions of the country and “den-hunting” (killing all the animals at a fox den), one of the oldest paid jobs in Iceland, is still performed. The fur, however, is not used anymore since it became [worthless] with the emergence of fur farms some decades ago.”

Hunters paid for every fox killed

The argument that foxes must be hunted in order to protect livestock and birdlife has also been strengthened by public perception of the fox as a vicious predator. “The fox is said to be cunning and cruel,” noted the 1961 short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (‘The fox makes its den in the scree,’ watch here, in Icelandic). “So it is getting its just desserts. It is killed on sight wherever it is encountered.”

Screenshot from short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (Ósvaldur Knudsen; 1961)

This way of thinking is quickly losing traction among experts and politicians alike, however. “Livestock doesn’t appear to be suffering,” says Steinar Rafn Beck Baldursson, a specialist in hunting management at the Environment Agency. He notes that the agency has put out calls for reports of foxes killing sheep and birds but has only received the occasional notification of foxes getting into eider nests. When asked why foxes don’t pose the same threat they once did to sheep, Steinar Rafn has a very simple supposition: sheep no longer give birth to their young in pastures. “In the past, foxes hunted newborn lambs or went after sheep when they were in labour.”

Last year, 7,227 foxes were hunted, marking a 40-year high. This creates a significant financial burden on the state, as local municipalities are obliged to pay hunters for every fox they kill between the fall and the spring. The annual cost of this has increased dramatically over the years. In 2011, ISK 67 million [$512,742; € 445,349] was paid out to fox hunters. This total ballooned to ISK 134 million [$1.03 million; €890,699] in 2020. The state has been paying a fifth of the cost since 2014, as a way of offsetting the financial burden on large, but sparsely populated municipalities.

See Also: This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to Afternoons

Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson recently submitted a bill to parliament that would have amended current hunting legislation and established a management and protection plan for the arctic fox in Iceland. The bill did not pass.

Steinar Rafn says that the Environment Agency had hoped the bill would pass but is currently considering similar proposals for changing the legislation on ptarmigan hunting—the fox will come later, he says. “What would make the most sense would be to review this whole system,” he says. “Maybe only winter hunting and no den hunting.”

Iceland Could Owe Billions Due to Unfulfilled Commitments to Kyoto Protocol

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson

Iceland faces possible expenditures of billions ISK (1,000,000,00 ISK – 7,190,623$, 6,117,330€) for not having fulfilled its commitments to the Kyoto protocol, RÚV reports. According to Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, a team is working on estimating what Iceland’s exact debt is when the commitment period is up at the end of this year.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty meant to decrease the emission of greenhouse gasses and counteract climate change. Despite getting a special provision which allowed increased emission from large scale industry, Iceland hasn’t fulfilled its commitments. The Kyoto Protocol commitment period is up by the end of the year and it will be time to settle the debt.

“It’s not clear how much it will be. It’s being looked into. There are a few possible ways to respond to this. A team is currently working on it,” Guðmundur said after the Government meeting today. “But I am making it very clear that this is what happens when climate issues aren’t taken seriously. Our current government is taking them seriously and has a credible plan for 2030 to uphold the Paris Agreement. We expect no less than we’ll do our duty there.”

Is not paying an option for Iceland? “We’ll fulfil our commitments, that’s clear. It’s left to see how much it is and in what way this will be done,” replied Guðmundur Ingi.

Guðmundur Ingi is not willing to censure earlier governments but says: “I would have liked to see this differently, that’s for sure. The main thing is that we’re now dealing with climate issues. We have a credible plan to fulfil our commitment for 2030.”

Iceland to Establish National Park in Westfjords

Geirþjófsfjörður

The Westfjords is set to receive a national park that would encompass the popular Dynjandi waterfall, according to a notice from the Environment Ministry. The Environment Agency of Iceland is now working with a task force to establish the park and protect the areas it covers across

Sites included within the planned park are Vatnsfjörður, Surtarbrandsgil, Geirþjófsfjörður, and the land under Dynjandi waterfall as well as the farmstead Hrafnseyri in Arnarfjörður fjord, the birthplace of Iceland’s independence hero Jón Sigurðsson. The park would this include both natural sites and sites of historic importance to Iceland.

“There are few national parks in Iceland, not least considering how magnificent the nature is that can be found here,” stated Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. “I see great opportunities in establishing a national park in the southern Westfjords, not least for the protection of our nature and culture, but also for opportunities for job creation that attraction entails for the region as a whole, as the area is unique and different from other areas where there are national parks today.”

RARIK, the official energy corporation of Iceland, the previous owner of the land on which Dynjandi waterfall is located, gifted that land to the Icelandic state last September, which was one principal impetus for the establishment of the park.

The Environment Agency is asking the public to suggest names for the national park. Submissions can be entered via their website.

New Regulation Bans Use of Heavy Fuel Oil

Last week, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, signed new regulations into effect implementing stricter shipping fuel standards within Icelandic territorial waters. The regulations, which ban the use of heavy fuel oil, form a part of the government’s plan of action against climate change, and the government’s coalition agreement.

Heavy fuel oil is a particularly dirty form of oil that is used in shipping and emits high levels of black carbon, a climate forcing agent.

“These new regulations mean that Iceland will boast one of the strictest heavy-fuel regulations in the world,” Guðmundur Ingi stated.

The regulations ensure that the same restrictions that apply to so-called ECAs (Emission-Control Areas) – within the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the North American ECA, the US Caribbean ECA – apply also to Icelandic territorial waters. Stricter controls were established in these areas to minimise airborne emissions from ships by placing limits on the percentage of sulphur in shipping fuel. These controls apply to a limited area within the ECAS, but in Iceland, regulations will apply wholesale to Iceland’s territorial waters.

The regulations stipulate that sulphur limits for fuel in Icelandic territorial waters – along with fjords and bays – will be 0.10% m/m. The current sulphur limit is 3.50% m/m. Vessels will be banned from using heavy fuel within Icelandic territorial waters unless employing authorised methods to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.