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Yet another train wreck on the environmental front

Some extremely alarming news today: the Hellisheiðavirkjun power plant is falling short of its production capacity, and the implications are dire.

IMG_8765_newA bit of context:

Hellisheiðavirkjun is a geothermal power plant – i.e. it harnesses steam from the ground. Those of you who have been to Iceland may well have seen it – when you drive east from Reykjavík towards Hveragerði, it is on the left hand side just before you ascend onto the Hellisheiði heath. It typically has columns of steam rising up from it.

The plant opened in 2006 as a state-of-the-art power plant that cost a shitload of money to build. The “green” power it produced was intended to supply the capital area with electricity for years to come, but mainly it was built to supply the Century Aluminum smelter on Grundartangi with power.

Hellisheiðavirkjun was designed to produce 303 megawatts of energy per year, and it has been operating at full capacity until now. However, after “extensive research” [which for some f*cked up reason was not done before now] it is now clear that this capacity will fall by an average of 2.3% per year in coming years, simply because it isn’t sustainable. In other words there isn’t an inexhaustible amount of steam in the ground.

The plant is currently producing 276 MW of power. Of this, the Century Aluminum plant now buys 244 MW for the smelter. Those contracts need to be fulfilled, irrespective of the state of the resource.

I’m sure you comprehend what a dreadful situation this is. Worst case scenario: if those agreements are not renegotiated we here in the capital area could be suffering power outages while all the power from Hellisheiðavirkjun goes to the fricking smelter.

This situation comes on top of two other very serious considerations in connection with Hellisheiðavirkjun, which have nothing to do with this per say, but which are dire nonetheless. They are: what to do with the excess water produced by the plant [it produces water, which is toxic, and which no one knows what to do with … they’ve been pumping it back into the ground, producing earth tremors and quakes that are clearly felt in the nearby towns], and also the toxic gases that are being spewed around the general vicinity, including the capital area. It has been proven that, when those emissions are high, the market for asthma medication in Reykjavík shoots up. I am convinced that it is responsible for my own asthma symptoms, which I began to experience a few years ago, though I had never had any respiratory problems before. [I am extremely healthy in other ways.] Those toxic emissions can be cleaned up using special equipment, but Reykjavík Energy – which owns Hellisheiðavirkjun – has so far refused to install it, citing the high cost. Of course the public health costs for Icelandic society due to increased respiration problems among its citizens count for nothing.

Now for the implications.

If you follow this blog’s Facebook page, you will probably know that the new government wants to revive plans for a new smelter on the Reykjanes peninsula [the area between the Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík], in a place called Helguvík. The smelter, in fact, is already under construction, and has been for quite some time. What has halted the construction, however, is the fact that no one has managed to resolve the question of where its power should come from. Like all other smelters, it will require an enormous amount of it. And, well, that power ain’t there.

That doesn’t seem to be of too much concern to the geniuses in the Independence Party. Like true Icelanders they’ve decided to take the “þetta reddast” approach [those of you who have read my Little Book of the Icelanders will understand] and just … wing it. They figure that if they just bore enough holes in the Reykjanes peninsula they’ll eventually find enough steam to produce the power. And if they don’t find it there, they’ll just find it … somewhere else. And transport it over there … somehow. Thereby solving all the unemployment and other social problems in the Reykjanesbær area [an Independence Party stronghold] in one fell swoop.

Yeah. Right.

Naturally there’s been an uproar about these most recent developments. The environmental agencies are calling for a stop to all geothermal power plants until more studies have been carried out. The Left-Greens want to limit production in Hellisheiðavirkjun and cut everyone’s losses [after all – the investment!], somehow trying to make it sustainable. The IP is waffling … they seem to be acquiescing that the environmentalists have a point, but say the focus now needs to be on hydroelectric power … which means they’ll want to harness all the rivers in the area, including Þjórsá, destroying some beautiful waterfalls along the way. And Reykjavík Energy – the owner of Hellisheiðavirkjun – is talking about linking to some other boreholes further away to try to squeeze some more power out of the region – at great expense, I might add.

After all, we wouldn’t want our multinational overlords to be disappointed.

At the end of the day, this is so typically Icelandic … to just barge ahead, without thinking things through to the end, believing that things will somehow work themselves out. Which they often do … except when they don’t.

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