A new silica factory called PCC BakkiSilicon just opened for business in the municipality of Húsavík, in the north of Iceland. This week, in fact, one of the furnaces will be fired up in preparation for next week, when the factory will officially begin working on raw materials, Visir reports.
Not so Left Greens
The factory itself is owned mostly by German Company PCC SE, while the remaining 14% of the shares are in the hands of a local company called Bakkastakkur. Fifteen different Icelandic pension funds, as well as bank Íslandsbanki, have invested in Bakkastakkur.
The decision to build the factory, however, was taken by the residents of Húsavík themselves when the Left Greens were in power in the city council. At the time, the political party had justified the decision by explaining that a silica factory had a much lower environmental impact than an aluminium factory, while also potentially improving the financial situation of the community. In addition to building the factory, in fact, a daughter company of PCC SE called PCC Seaview Residences is overseeing the construction of new apartments in Húsavík for factory workers. The hope is to offer an incentive for 200 to 400 people to relocate to Húsavík to work in the factory. As of now, the population of this northern village is barely above 2,000 people.
Learning from the past?
The Environment Agency of Iceland gave the green light for the factory’s operations in November 2017, which will include the production of 66,000 tonnes of raw silica for further production abroad, as well as 27,000 tonnes of silica dust and 6,000 tonnes of metal residue. It was calculated that the factory will need about 66 tonnes of coal a year to support the production.
Because of the infamous United Silicon in Helguvík and the level of pollution registered around the area in the past few years, which led to the temporary closure of the factory itself, the Environment Agency filed a thourough review of the plant and an assessment of the potential polluting factors that could harm the population and the environment.
Although PCC’s self-evaluation showed no significant risk of pollution for the local environment but only a positive influence on the local community, the Agency came to the conclusion that a factory of this type could significantly affect the quality of the air in the surrounding area. In addition, in a report from the Icelandic Environment Association, the NGO stated that “on the basis of Iceland’s total emissions in 2015, excluding land use, land-use change, and forestry, (LULUCF), the silica plant will increase Iceland’s levels of carbon dioxide emissions by up to 8%.” As the Association points out, this is not in line with Iceland’s climate change policy, even though the factory has stated that it will follow EU emission trading system’s guidelines.
The Associations’ comments prompted the Environment Agency to re-evaluate the factory’s licence, including a review of the factory’s provisions for chemical waste derived by the production chain, as well as the implementation of other measures to minimise pollution, such as the use of a dry scrubber system. The silica factory has therefore received a licence for production valid until November 8th 2033.