Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘power plants’

Social impact assessment important in accessing perceptions of projects

Iceland’s environment ministry has just held a symposium on social impacts of energy projects in Iceland, in particular in relation to new power plants envisaged as part of the 4th Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization. Key speakers were a couple now living in the Netherlands: an academic from the University of Gröningen, Frank Vanclay, and his practitioner wife, Ana-Maria Esteves, who works with the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA).

Much of the symposium was related to social environmental assessment itself, irrespective of country. So for instance when a fracking project is announced, there might be impacts from vehicle noise of various types, exhaust fumes, increased accident risk, injury or even death, costs of road repair from increased traffic, and changing character of the town (less peaceful, etc.). These are balanced by the potential for local income from spending by drivers, plus other services for drivers.

Everything is social, Frank said: landscape analysis; archeological and heritage impacts; community, cultural and linguistic impacts; demographic and economic impacts; gender issues; health and psychological impacts; political issues such as human rights; resource issues, and indigenous issues. Social impacts depend on project characteristics, as well as characteristics of the community, individuals and any proposed mitigation. Impacts cannot be measured in advance, but social impacts should be done before environmental impacts. Speculation starts as soon as there is even a rumour of a proposed development, he says. If there is no consensus, projects should not proceed.

As an activist, I found his slide on the different types of protest interesting.

IMG_1198

Ana said that “the purpose of benefit-sharing is to retain part of a project’s economic benefits in the region where the project is located”. These may be voluntary or non-voluntary, monetary or non-monetary. Who decides, who distributes, who benefits? And how do people perceive negative aspects?

The Icelanders who spoke brought up local issues. Birna Björk Árnadóttir from the Planning Agency brought up the case of a proposed hydropower plant, Hvalár, in an isolated region of northwest Iceland where people have been divided into two factions: proponents (mainly locals) who say “this is our project, let us decide” and opponents, who say “to whom do the fjords belong”?

In line with some of what Ana said earlier in the symposium, developers of this project have promised various benefits for the local villagers.

In terms of social impact assessments for power plants, the following should be covered: access to electricity and electrical safety, population changes, land use, employment, property value, fringe benefits and perks, public health, cultural heritage, and tourism and recreation. Employment weighs heavily in the assessments, whereas tourism and recreation are usually the most-researched factors.

In Iceland, social impact assessment has only been carried out with large projects such as construction of the dam and aluminium plant in East Iceland. Given the proximity of the currently non-operating silicon metal smelter in Helguvik, south-west Iceland, to local communities, it would have been better if a social impact assessment had been carried out there first. Stakksberg, the company set up by Arion Bank to see to the amendments and potential sale of the smelter, could still decide to carry out a social impact assessment for the project – but I doubt they will.

 

 

Article now up on renewed push for aluminium plants in Iceland

Check out my latest article for Inter Press Service on the Icelandic government’s renewed push for aluminium plants and power plants. In addition to what is in the article, other obstacles are still in the way for Helguvik: the problem of transmission lines has not been solved and, according to investigative journalist Sigrun Davidsdottir who found the information in a new report by the plant owners Century Aluminium, financing has not been procured for the plant.

Iceland’s new fisheries and agriculture minister to deal with environmental issues as well

From an environmental point of view, holding a press conference to announce the priorities and ministers of the new government in a location 80 km from Reykjavik instead of the capital itself is bad enough. But Iceland’s new government, which will be headed by Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party, clearly has no qualms about environmental issues of any kind, as it is not going to have a special Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources – “at least not for the time being” – but will let the minister for fisheries and agriculture cover environmental issues as well. They say that this does not mean that environmental issues will be pushed under the table, and point out that natural resources was added to the environment ministry in the last government. They say that the ministry itself will still exist.

Energy matters will be lumped with Industry and Commerce (it is currently under Finance and Economic Affairs). This fits, as the new government wants to exploit as soon as possible any reserves of oil and gas that are found off Iceland.

At the broadcasted press conference, Gunnlaugsson and his buddy Bjarni Benediktsson from the Independence Party were cagey on issues to do with the environment, priority over development of power plants and continued development of the Helguvik aluminium smelter. “We have to remember that Iceland’s energy is renewable and clean,” they said, implying that development of power plants in Iceland is thus acceptable. Their attitude is reminiscent of Siv Fridleiksdottir, environment minister at the time the Karahnjukar plant was under discussion and later development (see my blog last month). And the last government’s actions in putting various controversial power plant options into “more research needed” or “protected” categories will be reversed.

Gunnlaugsson says that the make-up of the new government reflects its priorities of slashing home loans, creating more opportunities for industry and cutting taxes. I suspect the environment will suffer over the next four years – a pity really, because Iceland is known for it’s non-polluted environment.

Regarding EU accession, the duo want to review the progress of the EU accession process as it stands in Iceland, review the position of EU as a whole on a state-wide level and present the results to the Althingi. No further progress will be made regarding accession talks until after a referendum on the issue, but no date has been set – “it will be after the review of the process has been completed”, says Gunnlaugsson.