Icelandic power plans stir parliamentary heat

Government stands firm after three-day debate as international NGOs step up protests

A stormy three-debate in the Icelandic parliament on the wisdom of building a new hydroelectric plant in an "area of outstanding natural beauty" ended on Friday with industry minister Finnur Ingolfsson declaring that "nothing had been revealed that would change the government's intention to go ahead with the scheme." Forty four of the country's 63 members of parliament spoke in the debate, which the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (Inca) described as the "biggest environmental controversy in Icelandic history." The dossier will now be reviewed by the parliament's industry committee before returning to the full house for a final vote in December. Inca claims the dam and power unit would do incalculable damage to the 40 square kilometre Eyjabakkar wetlands, an important breeding site for migratory birds, and is pressing for a formal environmental impact assessment (ENDS Daily 30 August). The government believes an existing, favourable, assessment by the National Power Company is sufficient, since a construction licence was issued before formal EIAs became mandatory in 1994. Thirteen national branches of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Europe have issued a protest about the scheme, designed to provide cheap power for an aluminium smelter planned by the local subsidiary of Norwegian conglomerate Norsk Hydro. They said an environmental assessment should consider alternative sources of power, including high-temperature geothermal energy. Norsk Hydro was unable to comment today.

Follow Up:
Inca, tel: +354 897 2437; Icelandic industry ministry, tel: +354 560 9070. References: A WWF view of the dispute is posted here.

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