Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for December, 2017

Buyer wanted for United Silicon’s plant in Iceland

Norwegian consultancy Multiconsult say that Euro 5 million will need to be spent on the beleaguered silicon metal plant in Helguvik, Southwest Iceland, if it is to meet the criteria imposed by Iceland’s Environment Agency to bring it back into operation. However, an additional Euro 20 million will be needed to bring it up to Best Available Technology standards. Apparently the furnace itself is well designed and good quality, but the associated equipment is cheap and inferior and the cause of frequent mishaps and the main cause of the odour pollution found in the locality.

United Silicon have clearly had enough and are looking for buyers. Eight to ten companies have supposedly expressed interest in buying the plant, including several big names in the industry. United Silicon say that talks will start in the new year with prospective buyers.

Meanwhile, the PCC silicon metal plant in North Iceland is facing delays because of construction delays. It will not start operation until some time in February, but was originally meant to start up in mid-December.

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Are United Silicon about to give up?

Today was supposed to be D-Day for United Silicon in Iceland, the day when they were supposed to have paid off all their dues. But no, this was not to be the case, as they asked for another moratorium on payments and were given an extension of 6 weeks, till 22 January. In theory they could have got a 3-month extension, but they said that 6 weeks would suffice.

Karen Kjartansdottir, spokesperson for United Silicon, says that while the smelter has not been operating they have been going over what needs to be done and carrying out some of the necessary improvements. These are costly, and may take another 6 months to complete. Who pays? Arion bank, who have already written off a sizeable proportion of United Silicon’s debts.

But she also said that they were looking at debt pooling, and intimated that they had also been using the time to find out if there were any prospective buyers for the plant. Apparently some large companies in the same business had shown interest, though no one has come up with an offer.

In one way it’s good that they have been given the extra time, because by that time the new PCC silicon smelter in North Iceland will probably have started to operate – and PCC have warned local inhabitants that odour and minor health problems may be experienced during the first few weeks, while the plant is being brought up to full capacity. Sound familiar?

Iceland now has a Left-Green Prime Minister

Katrin Jakobsdottir, leader of Iceland’s Left-Green party, has become Iceland’s latest Prime Minister (within the last two years there have been four of them). Unfortunately, although she initially began discussions about forming a government with the Pirates, Social Democrats and the centre Progressive Party, the latter opted out at the last minute and so she started discussions with the PP and the Left-Greens’ “arch enemy” – Bjarni Ben’s Independent Party – much to the disgruntlement of many Left-Green voters and two L-G politicians. The Left-Greens demanded that Katrín would be made Prime Minister, even though normally BB would have become PM because his party got the most seats.

Surprisingly, those discussions have resulted in a government and they produced a manifesto yesterday (in Icelandic) outlining their plans. Environmental issues rank highly, and they may well establish a national park in the central highlands. The Icelandic Environment Association has been pushing for this for a few years, and the managing director of the NGO has now been made environment minister (the French environment minister also has a background in environmental actions). That’s a good move.

Katrin promises a new way of working so we’ll see what happens. Unfortunately, we have the same Minister of Justice, who was very unpopular in the last government. BB is Finance Minister, and elements of his party’s policies can be seen in the manifesto. Otherwise, it is thought that the Left-Greens and PP have left a definite mark on the agreement, so you never know….

This is what I wrote for ENDS Europe today:

Iceland plans to raise carbon taxes by 50% immediately as part of a raft of new environmental measures announced by the country’s incoming government on Thursday.

The measure, outlined in an agreement between the parties of the coalition government, follows a commitment by the previous government in the draft budget for 2018, which noted that the country’s current carbon tax is generally considered low in comparison to that of other Nordic countries.

The tax will apply to petrol, diesel, fuel oil and associated transport fuels. After the initial doubling, the carbon taxes will be increased in the following years in line with the country’s climate change action plan.

The coalition government – formed by the Left-Greens’ Katrin Jakobsdottir with the centre-right Independence Party and the populist Progressive Party – intends to take measures to develop a bioeconomy, using incentives to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Organic production, which is currently low in Iceland, will be strengthened, according to the agreement.

Despite the black picture depicted by the National Audit Office and the Institute of Economic Studies earlier this year, Iceland now aims to go further than the goals of the Paris Agreement and become carbon-neutral by 2040 at the latest.

The agreement states that all the government’s major programmes will be evaluated in terms of climate change objectives, and a climate change board will be set up. The coalition parties also aim to ban the use of heavy fuel oil in shipping in Iceland’s economic area and to support international agreements on marine protection.

Instead of building new power plants, which is always controversial in Iceland, the existing distribution network will be improved to better utilise existing energy production. New legislation will be implemented regarding wind turbines.

The government intends to tackle the problem of single-use plastic waste, with emphasis on preventive measures and the removal of plastic waste from both land and sea.

Legislation on protection, conservation and hunting of wild birds and mammals will also be reviewed. As Iceland is not a member of the EU, it has not implemented the Habitats or Birds Directives.

The new environment minister, Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, was the managing director of the Icelandic environment association Landvernd until his appointment on Thursday. He is a biologist by training.

No one really expects this government to last the full four years either, and political analysts say that a 3-party coalition has never lasted out. But it’s an experiment.