Iceland’s Hellisheidi geothermal power plant is in danger of losing its operating licence because from July 1 this year, hydrogen sulphide (H2S) concentrations may never exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24-hour period – and they probably will.
Since 2010, levels have been allowed to exceed the maximum level 5 times a year.
The operators of the Hellisheidi plant, Orkuveita Reykjavikur, have applied for a 5-year extension but it is by no means certain that they will receive one. Various institutions and health authorities have given their opinion, which ranges from no extension being granted to a 2-year extension being granted. The 5-times-a-year limit is already exceeded at a Waldorf preschool and primary school located midway between Reykjavik and the power station. The local newspaper for the city, simply called Reykjavik (and which happens to be edited by a former colleague of mine, Ingimar Karl Helgason) covers the issue in detail in its current issue and quotes the Environment Agency as saying: “Chemical emissions from large geothermal plants are usually very high and can be in the air, soil, surface water, groundwater, sea and deep underground. The sulphur emissions from the Hellisheidi plant are, for instance, greater than the emissions from the Alcoa Fjardaál plant [the East Iceland aluminium plant] measured in sulphur equivalent units.” The EA want the plant to be granted a 2-year extension, which will give the operators time to evaluate the results of their Sulfix project which involves injecting the sulphur deep into the ground.
I’m a member of the Icelandic natural scientists association and they have a paper in the current issue of their journal which covers the H2S issue and the health effects arising from it. It’s an interesting issue because little is known about H2S.
If anyone is interested in an article that looks deeper into this issue, let me know.