Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for January, 2017

Iceland’s silicon industry off to a bad start

I’ve just written an article for IDN-InDepthNews, flagship of the International Press Syndicate, about the shaky start (to put it mildly) to the silicon metal industry in Iceland. I’ve blogged before about the environmental effects of silicon metal plants in relation to Thorsil, as its smelter is due to be built on a site adjacent to United Silicon’s smelter in Helguvik on the southwest tip of Iceland. I’ve also blogged on the plan by Silicor Materials to build a “green” solar silicon plant that is so clean it won’t need an EIA done on it (but see my latest article for an update on that).

United Silicon started up its silicon smelter in mid November by using poor-quality wood chips to dry the first furnace and bake the electrode. Almost immediately, residents from the nearby village – less than 1.5 km from the plant – started to complain about burning odours and other health problems. And that’s just the beginning. Read my article for more information.

Four furnaces are planned for United Silicon and four for Thorsil. In addition to the Silicor Materials plant in West Iceland, a fourth plant is under construction in the north, by Husavik.

The new environment minister in Iceland, Bjort Olafsdottir, is not keen on silicon smelters but says there is little she can do because previous governments agreed finance agreements with silicon manufacturers. At least it appears that no more than these four will be built – though I’m not totally convinced that she cannot stop the Silicor Materials plant from being built, as it is having financing problems along with facing public opposition.

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Icelandic government on brink of taking power but could face vote of no confidence

Iceland is on the brink of getting a new ruling coalition – the Independent Party, Vidreisn (= Reform) and Bright Future. They have actually tried before to form a coalition, to no avail. But this time it’s worked. The final touches are being made today, including who the Ministers will be, but it’s clear that Bjarni Benediktsson from the Independent Party will be Prime Minister.

But there are already problems. Bjarni Ben (BB) was associated with the Panama Papers scandal, and at a meeting in Reykjavik before the elections French MEP Eva Joly said she was surprised that he and the others named at the time, Olof Nordahl and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, would even dream of standing again. But yes, they all got back in.

Last summer, BB set up a committee to look into how much money Iceland has lost from companies and individuals with assets in offshore islands such as Panama and Tortola. The committee actually reported back on September 13 but BB said that the Finance Ministry, which he headed, had actually received the report on October 13, after the Althingi had dissolved.

The report wasn’t published on the Ministry’s website until last week, though. Over the weekend BB backed down and said he’d been given a presentation of the findings in the report on October 5. He gave some feeble excuse about not remembering the exact date as he was campaigning for election at the time, but basically he lied. And people are angry.

The Pirate Party are considering calling for a vote of no confidence in the not-yet-formed government coalition because of this. Smari McCarthy, one of the Pirate MPs, said that there was very little difference in the behaviour of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was forced to resign after the Wintris scandal, and BB. Svandis Svavarsdottir from the Left-Greens has put in a written request to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about whether delaying publication of the report until after the election can be considered a breach. The Reform Party are taking the matter seriously and I can’t imagine that Bright Future are pleased either. Indeed, in a vote to agree cooperation with Reform and IP, over 25% of those voting opposed the collaboration and policy statement.

Meanwhile, sorting out who will be Ministers is posing a problem. Bright Future are supposed to get two Ministerial positions, including the Environment Ministry, but there are only 4 MPs so they will be under a lot of pressure as they will also have to take part in government committees. And BB is in trouble because he can’t find enough women with experience for the 5 Ministers his party will get. The Reform Party lacks experience too – they will get two Ministers – apart from Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir, who split from the Independent Party but was Education Minister at one time for that party. There is animosity towards her from some members of BB’s party because of her defection.

This government is headed for difficulties. It only has a one-seat majority, so it won’t take much to unseat it. We’ll see.

Update: It turns out that the IP have 6 Ministers, Reform has 3 and Bright Future 2 (including the environment ministry). Of them, only 4 have held a ministerial position previously and 3 are new to the Althingi. Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir is Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture.

Update: The government has fallen, after sitting for 247 days instead of 4 years.