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Environmental Concerns Halt Power Line Project

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Environmental Concerns Halt Power Line Project

Þeistareykir

From Þeistareykir. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

The ruling committee for environmental and natural resource issues decided last Friday that the work on power lines to PCC’s silicon plant at Bakki, North Iceland, must be halted for the time being for environmental reasons, RÚV reports. Those include Power Line 1 from Þeistareykir geothermal power plant and Power Line 4 from Krafla power plant. Work on the former line had not begun, but work on the latter must be halted for now. Work may not resume while the committee analyzes the complaint submitted by Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, regarding the project. The decision will delay work on the power lines for almost a year.

Landvernd believes that further environmental assessment is needed to prevent environmental damage when providing electricity from Krafla power plant to PCC’s prospective silicon plant at Bakki. Other options than power lines should be evaluated, such as underground cables and options which bypass valuable lava fields, such as Leirhnúkur and Þeistareykir lava fields. Landvernd considers the existing environmental assessment outdated, since it takes no such options into account. Only a new environmental assessment would, in Landvernd’s opinion, allow for a realistic comparison of options in terms of minimizing environmental impact. Thus, the organization rejects plans to raise power lines capable of carrying ten times the energy need of PCC’s silicon plant to be constructed at Bakki. Even though the plant might be doubled in size in the unforeseeable future, that, the association believes, does not justify such large power lines.

According to RÚV, the initial environmental assessment assumed that an aluminum smelter would be raised at Bakki, but now the plan is for a silicon plant to be constructed instead. The latter requires much less energy than an aluminum smelter would have, and, thus, the discrepancy between the size of the power lines and the power need.

Guðmundur Ingi Ásmundsson, CEO of the electric utility company Landsnet, stated the ban will have a great impact on the company’s project. “We may not be able to keep our commitments regarding Bakki and the Þeistareykir geothermal power plant. The work has passed all legal phases regarding environmental assessment and planning. Regarding Þeystareykir Power Line 1, there has been an overall consensus about the project and an agreement has been reached with all landowners in the area.” Guðmundur expressed surprise that basic parts of the environmental assessment could be debated this late in the process.

Hörður Arnarson, CEO of Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland, commented, “Clearly, this is a very serious matter, which could have a great financial impact on many parties, Landsvirkjun among them, since we’re far along building the Þeistareykir power plant. Then we have a binding, current electricity contract with PCC.” Hörður would not say whether PCC could request compensation if power is not delivered on time.

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