Landsvirkjun

Landsvirkjun svarar grein í Guardian

17. desember 2003

Í gær birti Guardian eftirfarandi grein Friðriks Sophussonar um greinaskrif DeMuth. Guardian hafði áður birt athugasemdir Alcoa.

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Power driven?
Re the Karahnjukar Hydropower Project, Iceland

The article Power driven (Susan De Muth, The Guardian Weekend, November 29) on the Karahnjukar hydropower development is extremely inaccurate and misleading, distorting both the project itself and Icelandic society as a whole.

The physical impact of the scheme is grossly exaggerated at the beginning of the article, which opens with an extravagant account of the highland area north of the Vatnajokull glacier, before going on to claim that “a large part of this is due to disappear under 150m of water.” Given that the area in question covers a region of thousands of square kilometres and the main storage reservoir covers a total area of only 57km2, this can hardly be described as sinking “a large part”.
The article then goes on to assert that, “the project has proceeded, side-stepping one obstacle after another.” In actual fact, the development was subject from the outset to Iceland’s stringent legal procedures on environmental impact assessment (EIA), based on EU regulations. Once completed, these were followed by parliamentary approval by a vast majority, and construction permits were issued by the local authorities involved.

Neither the Karahnjukar project nor the open and effective democratic processes surrounding it deserve the front-page heading, “Iceland’s shame.” While it is true that the National Planning Agency did rule against the scheme, one of the main reasons was a lack of information on certain critical environmental factors available to it at the time. When these had been provided and accepted by independent experts, the Minister for the Environment, acting in her capacity as the higher authority in accordance with EIA legislation, then agreed to the project subject to certain changes and conditions.

In terms of wildlife, the development’s impact is, in fact, limited. According to the article, “a cull of one third of the (reindeer) population has already begun in anticipation of the drastic reduction in feeding grounds.” The truth is that hunting has been increased to prevent overpopulation and this has nothing to do with the project. As for pink-footed geese, the species does indeed nest in the region, as in other parts of Iceland’s highland interior, but there is certainly no “protected nesting ground” as is claimed by the author. Scientific research has shown that the project is not a threat to the geese stock.

The article then proceeds to state that 60 waterfalls will be lost. The fact is that 3 will be lost and a few more will be reduced in early summer. Moving on to the coastal area, the author speculates that “fields will be flooded and two established farms – one an eco-tourism centre – almost certainly destroyed.” This is simply not true, nor is the assertion that Lagarfljot, Iceland’s longest lake, “will become muddy, turbulent and unnavigable.”

Finally, the article further claims that the main contractor “has negotiated 1,100 exemptions in its contract – all of which are believed to leave Landsvirkjun liable.” As CEO of the company in question, I can affirm that the contract contains no open reservations or exemptions whatsoever. 
A full list of corrections to and clarification of the many erroneous claims and unfounded assertions contained in the article would run to several pages. The international community looks to hydropower development as an important component in achieving increased sustainability in the global energy sector. As a country, Iceland is recognised for developing an emission-free and sustainable power system. I would therefore like to assure Guardian readers that the article “Power driven” in no way presents a reasonable picture of the Karahnjukar project, the Icelandic power sector or the society in general.

Fridrik Sophusson, CEO, Landsvirkjun (The National Power Company), Iceland

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