It's not just hot air, as Björk takes on Beaty
Around 20% of the total population of Iceland (some 45,000 people) last week lent their support to a petition, aimed at stopping Canadian mining entrepreneur Ross Beaty from "taking over" one of the country's largest geo-thermal power producers.
The action was organised by the country's most renowned popular singer, Bjork.
It follows a high-profile campaign which Bjork helped launch last year, when she also got into trouble for attacking Beaty in Maclean's magazine.
Although Beaty's Magma corporation purports be a "green energy" promoter, he himself has been a major investor in hardrock mining.
He has recently promoted Ventana Gold (active in Colombia) and Pan American Silver (which has mines in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, and plans to commence mining in Mexico and Russia).
Bjork rallies Iceland against B.C. natural resources company
The Canadian Press
8 January 2011
Icelandic singer Bjork is forcing a Canadian energy company with a business presence in her country to "hear the music" of Icelanders opposed to foreign ownership of their country's resources.
The eclectic musician launched a three-day karaoke marathon on Thursday in the capital of ReykjavDik as part of her campaign "to win back the country's natural resources."
Vancouver-based Magma Energy Corp. boosted its interest in Iceland's HS Orka power plant operations to 84.2 per cent last August and to 98.5 per cent the following month.
The acquisition is not sitting well with Bjork and others who want Iceland's natural resources to be publicly owned and governed.
Bjork is trying to get 15 per cent of the population -- about 35,000 people -- to sign a petition that would force the government to consider revoking the takeover.
More than 20,000 people have signed so far, and the singer says she is hopeful that the remaining signatures will be gathered during the karaoke marathon.
"For 100 years, good people protected our natural resources and public interest," the petition says.
"In the 'outvasion' period, the sale of natural resources and irresponsible access to them began. Now it is time to stop that unfortunate development."
Bjork Gets 45,000 Signatures Against Magma, Morgunbladid Says
By Omar R. Valdimarsson
10 January 2011
More than 45,000 Icelanders have signed a petition organized by singer-songwriter Björk Gudmundsdottir against a recent sale of geothermal power producer HS Orka hf to Canada's Magma Energy Corp., Morgunbladid reported, citing the petition's website.
Björk wants to block the transaction, which was completed on Dec. 23. The deal was approved by a parliamentary commission on March 22.
Canadian Publication Retracts Björk Interview After Magma Threatens Libel Suit
Anna Andersen and Haukur S. Magnússon
The Rejkavik Grapevine
19 November 2010
On November 9, Maclean's Magazine posted an interview with Björk called, "In Conversation with Björk: Why the Icelandic singer wants a Canadian company booted from her country."
Shortly thereafter, the interview was retracted from Maclean's website after Magma threatened the magazine with a defamation suit.
Among their defamation complaints is Björk's statement: "Companies owned by Ross Beaty have a bad reputation for breaking serious humanitarian and union laws in South America-not giving farmers shares of profit they had promised and so on-but this is normal. This is the kind of beast you're dealing with...."
Although Björk referred to Ross Beaty rather than Magma Energy, it was Magma Energy that threatened to sue Macleans if the article was not retracted. In fact, Björk was referring to Ross Beaty's company, Pan American Silver, which is a mining company operating in South America.
On November 12, Macleans posted a correction, which reads as follows: "On the 9th of November Macleans published on its website an interview with Björk where she claims that Ross Beaty and Magma Energy Corp. have broken laws in South America. This is not correct and we apologize to Ross Beaty and his company."
In conversation with the Grapevine, Björk said, "I don't think Magma's qualms are about their reputation in humanitarian rights. That's more likely a ruse."
Björk thinks Ross Beaty is more likely concerned about her statements regarding geothermal energy not lasting for thousands of years. In the Macleans interview, Björk said: "...He has said that geothermal energy lasts for 1000 years. This is not true. It lasts about 50 years. Geothermal plants work similarly to mines, you drill and then there is only a limited amount down there. When magma's current 65-year deal is over, the hole will be empty."
She told us there are two things Ross Beaty seems to be trying to hide from investors, both current and potential. First, geothermal energy does not last forever. Second, Beaty does not have access to 400 MW of geothermal energy.
"On various widely watched business shows in Canada, he has been talking about having access to 400 MW of geothermal energy and that geothermal energy lasts forever and is entirely renewable," Björk said. "That's how he sells the idea to investors and it's simply not true. If this information were to be featured prominently in Canada, his whole venture could fail."
In the "corrected" version, which now appears on the Maclean's website, all of the remarks Björk refers to are also missing.
After repeated attempts to contact Magma Energy and its investors regarding the facts in question over the past week, the Grapevine has been met with hostility and downright refusal to answer any of our questions via phone or email. According to their VP of Corporate Relations Alison Thompson, Magma Energy and HS Orka have established a new policy that the companies will "not be participating in media requests from The Reykjavík Grapevine".
We might also note that the ever-tasteful Magma's font of choice for 'corporate' e-mail correspondence is Comic Sans. Blue Comic Sans!
Magma Corporation’s boss Ross Beaty threatens Canadian publication with a lawsuit for publishing Björk’s comments
Okuaudlindir.is press statement
18 November 2010
In an interview with the Canadian publication MACLEANS (Macleans.ca) Björk Gudmundsdottir stated that companies owned by Ross Beaty had a reputation for breaking laws on human rights and labour unions in South America.
Shortly after the publication of the interview on Maclean’s website, Ross Beaty contacted Macleans and demanded that Björk’s statement be withdrawn or he would sue the publication for libel.
The Macleans journalist, Tom Henheffer, who did the interview with Björk, chose to publish a “correction” on the Maclean’s website on the 12th of November: “On the 9th of November Macleans published on its website an interview with Björk where she claims that Ross Beaty and Magma Energy Corp. have broken laws in South America. This is not correct and we apologize to Ross Beaty and his company”.
What Björk said in the interview was the following: “Companies owned by Ross Beaty have a bad reputation for breaking serious humanitarian and union laws in South America”
Björk does not name Magma Energy Corporation in this context, as she is refering to Ross Beaty’s company Pan American Silver.
Despite the fact that Björk provided Macleans with several public references to Pan American Silver’s reputation in South America, Macleans chose to change the print version of the interview, remove it entirely from the web and apologize to Ross Beaty.
This is yet another example of how big business uses its power to influence the press and use legal threats to quelch free speech. Several such examples can be found on the website of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (www.immi.is)
The fact is, that several references critical of Pan American Silver can be found on the internet. Pan American Silver and other Canadian mining companies have been widely criticized for their conduct in South America and elsewhere and Björk’s statement is based on these public sources about Pan American Silver and the company’s operations in South America.
Ross Beaty’s threats of legal action against Macleans do not change the facts. As Macleans has removed both the original interview with Björk as well as their“correction” from their website, screenshots of both documents are included with this press release, as well as email exchanges with Macleans and references to websites who have published articles about Pan American Silver.
Björk tries to block Magma Energy deal with takeover plan
23 August 2010
Singer-songwriter Björk Gudmundsdottir is spearheading a push that one poll shows is backed by 85% of Icelanders to put foreign energy takeovers to referenda if enough people oppose the deals.
The popular movement would block an acquisition by Canada's Magma Energy Corp. of geothermal power generator HS Orka hf, which was approved by a parliamentary commission on March 22. More than 17,000 Icelanders have signed a petition demanding the deal be reversed, about half the number Premier Johanna Sigurdardottir has said should be enough to hold a referendum.
A July 21-28 Capacent Gallup poll of 1,200 voters showed 85% "would like to regain the rights to their energy source," Björk said in an e-mailed reply to questions. "Why not let the people of Iceland decide? We are asking the government to stop the sale and organize a national referendum on how Icelanders feel about whether access to their energy sources should be privatized or not."
The government last month ordered an investigation into the takeover after three coalition lawmakers threatened to bring the administration into a minority by withdrawing their support. The findings are due at the end of August. Iceland's Chamber of Commerce says the move will scare off foreign investors, harm the island's business climate and hamper any recovery from its 2008 financial collapse.
"A referendum on a particular private contract isn't good politics," said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a professor of political science at the University of Iceland. "If the government wants to hold a referendum, it would have to pose a general question to the public, such as whether energy companies should be privately or publicly held."
Kristinsson says plebiscites that aren't required by the constitution aren't legally binding, "only consultative."
Magma's Swedish unit, Magma Energy Sweden A.B., has completed the purchase of 84.12% of Orka and expects to buy a further 14.32% soon, the Vancouver-based company said Aug. 17.
"This matter has been reviewed twice in the past by a committee and each of those times has resulted in agreement that the transaction was completed according to existing laws," said Alison Thompson, a spokeswoman for Magma, in an e-mailed response to questions. "We are confident the same finding will result from the third committee review."
Magma offered the government the option of buying enough shares in Orka to hold a majority stake, Industry Minister Katrin Juliusdottir said Aug. 21. Her ministry will examine the offer "in detail and see whether it provides grounds for a different approach," she said in a phone interview. Finance Minister Steingrimur J. Sigfusson told RUV radio the government won't reply to Magma's offer until after its investigation.
The government will probe whether Magma circumvented Icelandic and European laws by setting up a company in Sweden for the sole purpose of investing in Iceland, Sigfusson said July 27. The island's laws prevent the sale of majority stakes in energy companies outside the European Economic Area.
Sigurdardottir, who has tried to push a bill through parliament allowing for referenda if 15% of voters want one, said last month her government wants to "wind down the privatization in the energy sector; our primary objective is to ensure public ownership."
Energy ownership is a sensitive subject in Iceland, which is unique in Europe in generating almost all its power from hydro or geothermal sources. According to the National Energy Authority, 73% of Iceland's energy was generated from hydro last year, 22.3% from geothermal and 4.7% from fossil fuel.
Geothermal power is cheaper to produce than most alternative energies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data. Plants harnessing underground heat need to earn an average US$74 a megawatt-hour for the owners to pay off their investment in Iceland, compared with US$91 for onshore wind farms and at least US$241 for solar energy, according to the research service.
That's helped keep a lid on energy costs for a population whose incomes were reduced by a fifth last year following the 2008 banking collapse.
Orka, which generated 8.3% of all the energy produced in Iceland in 2009, is the island's third-biggest energy producer after state-owned Landsvirkjun, and Orkuveita Reykjavikur, owned by the city of Reykjavik.
Still, blocking foreign ownership of natural resources will hurt foreign investment in one of Iceland's most attractive industries, said Bjorn Thor Arnarson, head economist with the Chamber of Commerce. Iceland is "trailing far behind other countries" in luring foreign investors, who may back away in coming years "because they are scared politicians will meddle," he said in an interview.
Foreign direct investment in Iceland fell by more than 70% between 2006 and 2008, the central bank says, largely due to the completion of an aluminum smelter by Alcoa Inc., which began operations in April 2007. Century Aluminum completed expanding a smelter in October 2006.
"International giants" like Alcoa get a discount on energy prices while local greenhouses have to pay in full," said Björk, referring to a government price discount extended to large enterprises in return for guarantees to purchase a specified amount of power. "Instead of harnessing all of Iceland's energy for huge industrial-age dinosaurs, we could invent and develop more sustainable options."
Icelanders have "a unique relationship with geothermal energy -- all houses in Reykjavik are heated this way," Björk said. "It is cheap and has always been public property."