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Alcoa’s tariff in Iceland renegotiated before 2028

The heady days of cheap power prices in Iceland may be nearing an end. With 4,600 GWh annual consumption the Fjarðaál aluminum smelter of Alcoa in Iceland is the largest electricity consumer in the country. The smelter has been enjoying one of the lowest power tariff to aluminum smelters worldwide. However, there are indications that the Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun and Alcoa will renegotiate the power price no later than 2028. The result is likely to be a significantly higher tariff and a major increase in Landsvirkjun’s revenues and profits after 2028.

One-third of Landsvirkjun’s power generation

For Landsvirkjun the power contract with Alcoa is of major importance. This one contract covers about 1/3 of all the electricity Landsvirkjun generates and about 1/4 of all the power generation in Iceland. This one contract has a fundamental impact on the profitability of Landsvirkjun and thus a major impact on average returns in the Icelandic electricity industry.

Construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam.

The power contract of Alcoa and Landsvirkjun was signed in early 2003, the contract period being 40 years from the first delivery of power. To supply the power, Landsvirkjun constructed the largest hydropower station in Europe (Russia and other former republics of the USSR excluded). The Alcoa smelter in Iceland began operating in mid-2007, reaching full capacity some months later. The power contract covers the period until 2048.

It is known that the power contract includes provisions offering the option of revising the power tariff as early as 2028. When having regard to recent development of power prices to aluminum smelters in Iceland, there is a reason to expect that the power tariff to Alcoa in Iceland will increase dramatically already in 2028.

Development of electricity tariffs might justify huge price increase

The power contract between Alcoa and Landsvirkjun is confidential, but documents from the Icelandic Parliament (Alþingi) have shown that 18 years after Landsvirkjun started the energy supply to the Alcoa smelter, the contracting parties shall negotiate a revised energy tariff. The new tariff shall be decided according to market development and shall be in force the second 20 years of the power contract (2028-2048).

Only Landsvirkjun and Alcoa know how much scope the contract offers in changing (raising) the electricity price. What seems to be the ruling factor regarding this, is how the electricity market will evolve during the period from 2003. Having in mind the recent development of power tariffs to aluminum smelters in Iceland, it seems possible that no later than 2028 the price of electricity to Fjarðaál may more than double from the current tariff.

Such a price increase would have enormous positive impact on the overall profitability of Landsvirkjun. This scenario is, however, subject to various conditions and such a sharp price increase may not go through if aluminum prices will be very low.

The Icelandic electricity market is changing

Few years ago new competition arrangement was introduced in the Icelandic power market. The new legislation meant a major structural change, making the power market focused on financial sustainability (profits) rather than politics, i.e. now each power contract with heavy industries like aluminum smelters must fulfil minimum conditions of financial return. Otherwise the contract may be invalid due to illegal state support.

Possible development of Icelandic power tariffs.

Because of these structural changes, power tariffs in new contracts in Iceland have been rising substantially. Older contracts like the one between Landsvirkjun and Alcoa, ensure the smelter almost risk-free tariff while the power company bears most of the risk.

To give a clear example, we can refer to the current power price Alcoa is paying to Landsvirkjun and compare that price to more recent contracts Landsvirkjun has negotiated with two other aluminum smelters; those of Rio Tinto Alcan (Straumsvík smelter) and Century Aluminum (Norðurál smelter). During 2016, the average power tariff to the Alcoa smelter was close to 20 USD/MWh (the tariff is linked to the price of aluminum at the LME). At the same time the Straumsvík smelter of RTA was paying Landsvirkjun close to 34 USD/MWh, according to a new contract from 2010 where the tariff is fixed and  linked to US consumer price index; CPI.

The smelter of Century Aluminum in Iceland (Norðurál) pays Landsvirkjun according to an old contract from 1999, where the tariff is extremely low. During 2016, Century and Landsvirkjun renegotiated the pricing method. From 2019, the power tariff to Century will be closely aligned with the power price at the Nordic power market (Elspot at Nord Pool Spot; NPS) . Of course nobody knows for sure what the power price will be at the NPS in 2019, but Landsvirkjun is obviously aiming for moving the Icelandic power market towards the power markets in Northwestern Europe. Which would result in very interesting changes for electricity generating companies in Iceland. We at the Icelandic and Northern Energy Portal, will soon be writing more about the opportunities these changes will create for Icelandic power companies. Stay tuned.

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NB: The power tariffs to aluminum smelters quoted in this article are based on research by Askja Energy Partners Ltd. The figures given in the article are not exact and they are based on several assumptions we do not guarantee to be correct. However, we are of the opinion that the mentioned tariffs are very close to the real negotiated tariffs.

Study on energy security in Iceland

The universities IIT Comillas in Madrid and MIT in Boston have completed a research project on the mechanisms of the Icelandic electricity sector. The project was managed by Mr. Ignacio J. Perez-Arriaga, pro­fess­or at MIT.

The project was twofold. Firstly, the current electricity market regime was examined and suggestions made for improvement. Secondly, a simulation of future operation of the power system was conducted, in which a number of scenarios were evaluated in terms of cost and energy security.

Although it was concluded that the operation of the Icelandic transmission system is in many aspects very good, there are certain things that need to be taken into consideration (as explained in Icelandic on the website of the national power company Landsvirkjun):

  1. There is a lack of clear legislation on acceptable norms in terms of energy security. Also, the legislation needs to be clearer on which agency/department is responsible for how to achieve such criteria for energy security, and what tools the responsible party should have to ensure the criteria can be achieved.
  2. Public energy security is not sufficiently guaranteed by the existing power trading system. In their report, the researchers propose how to improve this situation.
  3. Further delays in strengthening the Icelandic transmission system will make energy security in Iceland unsafe. Thera are bottlenecks in the system between regions. Those bottlenecks may contribute to a local energy shortage. The south-west corner of Iceland is at the greatest risk for such shortages. There are different ways to strengthen the transmission and each of them has its advantages and disadvantages.
  4. Wind power is likely to be a competitive alternative to hydropower and geothermal energy, in order to ensure sufficient supply. Opportunities may also be found in negotiating increased flexibility in delivering power to energy intensive industries.
  5. A submarine power cable between Iceland and Europe would better ensure the energy security in Iceland. To make such a project economical, financial assistance would be needed from outside Iceland [for example in the form of similar framework as the British Contracts for Difference; CfD].

This project by IIT Comillas /MIT was funded by the Icelandic National Energy Authority (NEA), the Icelandic TSO Landsnet, and the national power company Landsvirkjun. Presentations from the project can be found on the website of the NEA.

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Prof. Pérez-Arriaga, who was head of this research project on energy security in Iceland, has been a consultant for governmental agencies or electric utilities in more than 30 countries. Prof. Pérez-Arriaga is a member of the Spanish National Academy of Engineering and a Life Fellow of the IEEE. He has published more than 200 papers, been principal investigator in more than 75 research projects and supervised more than 30 doctoral theses on the aforementioned topics. He is a permanent visiting professor at MIT (2008-present) in the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), where he teaches a graduate course on power system regulation, engineering and economics. He was a review editor of the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It should be noted that in October 2015, Mr. Pérez-Arriaga gave a lecture on “the challenge of Energy Security Supply in Iceland”, at the Reykjavík University Arctic Workshop. In his presentation Mr. Pérez-Arriaga referred numerous times to graphs and data from the Icelandic and Northern Energy Portal / Askja Energy Partners, which of course is the main source on Icelandic energy issues. Video recording of the lecture can be seen on Livestream (the presentation starts at 19m:30s, right after an introduction by the President of Iceland).

Rising power prices in Iceland

Electricity demand in Iceland is growing and most of the low-cost options in the geothermal- and hydropower sectors have already been harnessed. Thus, it is not surprising that wholesale electricity prices on the Icelandic power market have been rising. What is no less important for the Icelandic power sector, are the rising tariffs in special contracts with heavy industries in Iceland.

Heavy industries, like aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production etc., consume close to 80% of all electricity generated in Iceland. The older power contracts with heavy industries offer the industrial companies the electricity at very low price. The chart at left shows the industrial tariffs in Iceland in 2016 (average tariff through the year). Note that the tariffs shown include transmission cost. The most recent contract is of course the one with the RTA smelter, while the oldest contracts with Elkem and Century Aluminum where negotiated two decades ago.

It is likely that the average general industrial tariff in Iceland will rise in the coming years. Icelandic power firms are already in the process of increasing price of electricity to industries in Iceland. The contract between the national power company Landsvirkjun and the RTA smelter at Straumsvík in 2010 was the first real step in this development. In 2010, the tariff to RTA increased substantially and is no longer linked to price development of aluminum. Instead it aligns with the US Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Another important step in increasing revenues from electricity sales to heavy industries in Iceland was taken in 2016, with a new power contract of Landsvirkjun and the Norðurál smelter of Century Aluminum. This new contract will become effective in 2019. From then, the tariff to Norðurál will become aligned with spot price on the Nordic power market (Elspot on Nord Pool Spot). Landsvirkjun is also re-negotiating the power tariff with the ferrosilicon plant of Elkem, which has been paying very low price for the electricity. The expected power price Century and Elkem will be paying according to the new contracts are shown by the arrows on the graph below. However, note that negotiations between Landsvirkjun and Elkem are still ongoing and it is of course possible no agreement will be reached (and then Landsvirkjun would probably be selling the power to other interested companies).

More steps towards rising average power price in Iceland will be taken after 2020, when several old contracts with heavy industries will run out. This applies to a couple of contracts Reykjavík Energy and HS Orka have with the Norðurál smelter (owned by Century Aluminum). This development towards higher power tariffs will probably also affect a very large power contract Landsvirkjun has with the Alcoa aluminum smelter of Fjarðaál, where the tariff is to be re-negotiated no later than 2028 (as can be seen highlighted on the graph at left).

Due to the new contract with RTA in 2010 and some other recent contracts with other smaller power intensive firms in Iceland, the average power tariff in new contracts with heavy industries in Iceland is already rising. This development can be expected to continue, resulting in a general power price to heavy industries in Iceland moving towards approximately 30-35 USD/MWh when transmission cost not included; close to 35-40 USD with the transmission cost. This is shown by the lower green limit on the graph above. Other large customers, i.e. less power-intensive industries and services such as large data centers, will also be experiencing rising tariffs; probably around 40 USD/MWh when transmission cost is not included and close to 45 USD/MWh with transmission cost, as shown by the higher green limit on the graph above.

The development so far is already a clear sign of rising power prices in Iceland. The rising tariffs reflect the necessity to increase return on capital invested in Icelandic power production, which so far has in general been very low, as explained in a recent report by Copenhagen Economics (the slide at left is from a presentation by Copenhagen Economics). Also, rising levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for new power plants in Iceland will push the electricity tariffs up. So rising power prices in Iceland can in fact be explained with simple economics.

IEEFA presents IceLink to be operational in 2027

In a new report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) introduces IceLink HVDC electric cable between Iceland and Britain as becoming operational as soon as 2027. The IEEFA conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment. The Institute’s mission is to accelerate the transition to a diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy and to reduce dependence on coal and other non-renewable energy resources.

One of the core findings in this new report, titled Electricity-Grid Transition in the UK: As Coal-Fired Generation Recedes, Renewables and Reliable Generation Can Fill the Gap, is that the UK grid is coping well with a coal phase-out, but requires greater investment in reliable generation to back up renewable power than the country is currently making. The report also explains how the UK is currently encouraging new investment in interconnectors; subsea cables linking its grid to neighbouring countries. The authors of the report claim such investment to be overdue, given present interconnection stands at 4GW, or 5% of existing generating capacity; just half the 10% benchmark proposed by the European Commission.

According to the report, interconnection can smooth variability in UK wind power by reaching into wider weather systems, and it can diversify generation. For example, the UK can receive electricity from hydropower stations in Norway and Iceland, where peak supply matches UK’s peak demand in winter. Also, inetrconnectors open access to various generation technologies elsewhere in continental Western Europe and to wind power in Ireland. In the UK, interconnection can lead to consumer savings of GBP 1 billion annually as a result of cheaper electricity imports, rather than having to build up all the necessary capacity within the UK.

The table at left is from the said report by IEEFA, explaining how potential electricity imports through interconnectors may offer UK an additional annual supply of 49 TWh by 2025 (if all projects proceed). This would be equivalent to more than a third of UK gas generation in 2016. One of the listed interconnector-projects is the IceLink cable, which would add close to 5 TWh. According to Natinal Grid, the IceLink is planned to be a 1,000 km long subsea cable with a capacity of 1,000 MM.

National Grid expects that the landing points for the cable will be in Northern Scotland and Southeastern Iceland. It will connect the electricity networks of Iceland and Great Britain, enabling electricity to flow in both directions and allowing electricity to be traded between the two countries.

As mentioned earlier, the IceLink-project is currently projected to be finished in 2027. According to National Grid it will make a positive contribution to European energy-policy objectives, helping Great Britain towards a minimum 10% interconnection target, facilitating renewables integration, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and resulting in socio-economic welfare benefits. More information about IceLink can be seen on the website of Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun.

Power tariffs to the Century smelter at Grundartangi

The Norðurál smelter of Century Aluminum, at Grundartangi in Southwest Iceland, enjoys the lowest electricity tariff to aluminum smelters in Iceland. The only company in Iceland paying lower electricity tariff, is the ferrosilicon plant of Elkem, also located at Grundartangi.

All the three largest power companies in Iceland supply the Grundartangi aluminum smelter with electricity. The pricing arrangements in all the contracts are quite similar. All the contracts have the power tariff aligned to the price of aluminum on the London Metal Exchange (LME). In 2016, all the three power companies selling electricity to the Norðurál smelter where receiving an average price close to 20 USD/MWh (as shown on the graph at left). Note that transmission cost is included in the price shown on this graph.

For comparison, the graph also shows the power price from Landsvirkjun (LV) to the ÍSAL smelter of Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) at Straumsvík in Southwestern Iceland. Of all the three aluminum smelters in Iceland, the Straumsvík smelter pays the highest electricity tariff. Which is not surprising, as the Straumsvík smelter has the most recent power contract. More information about recent power contracts with aluminum smelters can be seen here.

Most of the power consumed by the Norðurál smelter is generated by Reykjavík Energy, utilizing geothermal sources  (unfortunately Reykjavík Energy has been faced with major difficulties in sustaining its geothermal power production). Reykjavík Energy is called Orka náttúrunnar (ON) in Icelandic. It is a subsidiary of Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (OR), which is mostly owned by the city of Reykjavík.

The second largest power supplier to the Norðurál smelter is the national power company Landsvirkjun. Landsvirkjun generates most of its electricity in hydropower stations. In 2016, the company concluded a new agreement with Norðurál/Century, which will change the pricing method (the new agreement goes into force in 2019).

The third company selling power to the Norðurál smelter is the privately owned HS Orka, where Canadian Alterra Power is the major shareholder. Like Reykjavík Energy, HS Orka mostly relies on geothermal sources for its power generation.

As mentioned above, the cost of transmission is included in the power prices on the graph above. Each of the three power companies has to pay the transmission cost forward to the Icelandic Transmission System Operator (TSO), which is Landsnet. The graph at left should make it more clear what amount (price) the power companies are receiving for each megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity sold. On this graph, we highlight the part of the tariff that is the transmission cost (the grey part of the columns). Finally, note that readers should presume a confidence interval (uncertainty limits) of 5% regarding the Landsvirkjun-tariffs presented, and a 10% confidence interval regarding tariffs from Reykjavík Energy and HS Orka.

Power revenues from smelters declined in 2016

The average price of aluminum in 2016 was lower than the previous year (2015), resulting in lower average revenues per sold MWh for the Icelandic power firms selling electricity to the aluminum industry. In this article we present updated information on the power tariffs paid by each of the three aluminum smelters located in Iceland. Note that readers should presume a confidence interval (uncertainty limits) of 5% regarding all the tariffs presented.

One of the three smelters, the ISAL / Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) in Straumsvík, pays a fixed base-tariff which is linked to the US Consumer Price Index (CPI). The RTA smelter in Straumsvík (green column on the graph below) receives all its electricity from the national power company Landsvirkjun. The power contract of RTA and Landsvirkjun is from 2010, with additions in 2014. Before the new agreement in 2010, the RTA-smelter at Sraumsvík was paying very low tariff, which was linked to the price of aluminum. The power contract from 2010 was extremely important for Landsvirkjun, having very positive effects on its revenues and return. This contract reflects a start of Landsvirkjun’s new pricing policy, moving away from the risky price-connection with aluminum.

electricity-price-tariffs-to-aluminum-smelters-in-iceland_2007-2016_draft-feb-2017The other two smelters in Iceland – the Norðurál smelter of Century Aluminum at Grundartangi (red on the graph) and the Fjarðaál smelter of Alcoa at Reyðarfjörður (black on the graph) – have power contracts based on the old pricing-model. Both of these two smelters have contracts with Landsvirkjun, where the power tariffs are linked to the price of aluminum at the London Metal Exchange (LME). Thus, the power tariffs of Norðurál (Century) and Fjarðaál (Alcoa) fluctuate with the price of aluminum, As the price of aluminum has been low during the last few years, the power tariffs of Norðurál and Fjarðaál have also been on the downside, as can clearly be seen on the graph at left.

Landsvirkjun’s power contract with Fjarðaál (Alcoa) is the original contract signed in 2003. The current contract Landsvirkjun has with Norðurál (Century) is a re-negotiated contract from 1999 (original contract was from 1997). As we explained in a recent article, Landsvirkjun and Norðurál have reached an agreement on new power tariff for the period 2019-2023. The new tariff will be aligned to the Elspot tariff on the Nordic power market (Nord Pool Spot; NPS), replacing the current price-link with aluminium price.

This new contract with Norðurál was concluded in 2016 and becomes effective in 2019. The contract is likely to be an important step in bringing the Icelandic power market more in line with the power market in the other Nordic countries. The next step in this development is likely to be a new contract Landsvirkjun is currently negotiating with the Chinese owned Elkem, which owns and operates a ferro-silicon plant in Southwestern Iceland. The current power contract with Elkem, where the tariff is based on price development of ferro-silicon and the exchange rate of the Norwegian krona (NOK), runs out in 2019. In recent years, the power price for the Elkem-plant in Iceland has been extremely low (lower than the power price paid by the Norðurál smelter). Probably Landsvirkjun wants a major change in the pricing methodology, developing the tariff to Elkem towards the Nordic market spot pricing model.

century-aluminum_nordural-smelter-grundartangi-icelandFinally, note that the graph above only includes power contracts the aluminum smelters have with Landsvirkjun. Two other Icelandic power firms also generate and sell electricity to the aluminum industry in Iceland. These two firms are HS Orka and Orka náttúrunnar (Orka náttúrunnar is normally referred to as ON or Reykjavík Energy). ON is in public ownership, while HS Orka is privately owned. Both companies – ON and HS Orka – mostly rely on harnessing geothermal energy for their power generation. And both have long-term power contracts with the Norðurál smelter, where the tariff is linked to aluminum price on LME. The average power tariff in these contracts is slightly higher than the tariff in Norðurál’s contract with Landsvirkjun from 1997/1999  (the red column on the graph above). The Icelandic Energy Portal will soon be introducing more information about the power tariffs in the contracts Norðurál has with ON and HS Orka.

EU supports 1,400 MW NorthConnect HVDC cable

In mid February 2017 EU’s Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) published a list of energy infrastructure projects that have been selected to receive financial support from the European Union. One of these projects, designated as a Project of Common Interest, is the NorthConnect HVDC subsea cable, to connect the electricity markets in Norway and Scotland.

hvdc-north-connect_norway-uk-route-illustrationThis decision by INEA makes the approximately 655 km NorthConnect project eligible to apply for funding from the Connecting Europe Facility, the EU’s funding support programme for infrastructure, receiving over EUR 10 million to support its development. The NorthConnect cable will have a capacity of 1,400 MW. As other subsea interconnectors with Norway, the NorthConnect is expected to further balance the grid between the relevant countries and allowing wider electricity trading across Europe. Thus, this new cable will not call for increased hydro power capacity in Norway, which generates close to 100% of all electricity by utilizing hydro power.

Onshore Wind Farm Farr, Scotland / Onshore-Windpark Farr, SchottScotland has been developing major wind capacity. When strong winds will generate high amounts of electricity; the NorthConnect interconnector makes it possible to export part of the generation to Norway. Meanwhile, the massive hydro reservoirs in Norway will become like gigantic green batteries being charged. When the winds in Scotland will be calmer, the Norwegian hydro power companies will turn on their turbines, making it possible to export electricity to Scotland. This should increase security of supply and stabilize electricity prices for consumers. In addition, the new interconnector will increase the use of renewable energy in Europe.

The NorthConnect power cable will be routed from Simadalen in Norway, across the North Sea to Long Haven Bay, just south of Peterhead in Scotland. On the Norwegian side of the link, the cable will follow the long Hardangerfjord in western Norway, until landing at Simadalen. The exact route across the North Sea has yet to be determined. The project is due to start construction in 2019, reaching completion in 2022.

statnett-hvdc-subsea-cables-balancing-gridIf everything goes as planned, NorthConnect will be the first subsea interconnector from Norway owned by power companies. So far all the subsea power cables from Norway have been owned by the relevant transmission system operators. Current owners of the NorthConnect project are the Swedish national energy firm Vattenfall and three Norwegian power companies; Agder Energi, E-CO and Lyse Produksjon. All these four companies are in public ownership; the Swedish state owns Vattenfall and the three Norwegian firms are owned by several Norwegian municipalities and the national power company Statkraft.

New power tariffs to Aluminum smelters

As we explained in a recent article, the Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun has signed a new contract with the Century Aluminum smelter in Iceland (Norðurál). In this article we will compare the power tariff in this new contract with three other recent power agreements with smelters in Iceland and Canada.

aluminerie-alouette_sept-iles-smelter_quebec-canadaIn our comparison we analysed information about four recent power contracts. They are, in addition to the new Norðurál-contract, a contract between Landsvirkjun and ISAL/RTA regarding the smelter at Straumsvík in Southwestern Iceland, a contract between Hydro Québec and Alcoa/RTA regarding the Bécancour smelter in Québec in Canada, and finally a contract between Hydro Québec and Aluminerie Alouette regarding the Sept-Iles smelter, also in Québec. These four contracts were concluded in the period 2010-2016 and they came / will come into force in the period 2010-2019 (as shown on the graph below).

Each of the four contracts are different from the others. Both of the Canadian contracts are long-term and the price of the electricity in both of them is linked to the price-development of aluminum at the London Metal Exchange (LME). However, these two Canadian contracts are based on different prerequisites, as one of them (the Aluminerie Alouette contract) involves an obligation for conducting an engineering study for a potential later expansion of the smelter.

The two Icelandic contracts do not include any price-link with aluminum. The contract with ISAL/RTA from 2010 has a fixed starting tariff, linked to US consumer price index (CPI). The tariff in the more recent contract with Century’s Norðurál is linked to power price at the Nordic power market (Elspot on Nord Pool Spot; NPS).

The contract with ISAL, which was concluded and came into force in 2010, is a long-term contract of 25 years. The contract with Norðurál, agreed in 2016, will come into force in 2019 and only has a duration of four years. The contracting parties, Landsvirkjun and Norðurál, have offered no explanation about why the time-period of the new contract is so short, but an obvious reason is the new tariff being strongly aligned with spot market price of electricity on NPS (as explained in our last post).

electricity-price-tariffs-to-aluminum-smelters-in-iceland-and-canada_new-contracts_aep-2017The graph at left shows a.o. the approximate average tariff to the Straumsvík smelter of ISAL/RTA in 2016 (the tariff can be expected to rise steadily, as it is linked to the US CPI). The power price paid by Bécancour and Alouette depend on the development of aluminum price, and the blue columns reflect the average base-tariff for these two Canadian smelters in 2016 (when average aluminum price was close to 1,600 USD/ton). The light-blue part of the tariff shows how the Canadian tariff will rise if/when aluminum price becomes 1,900 USD/ton, as recently happened.

We should add that when there is a premium paid for aluminum, as has been the norm most of the time in recent years, the Canadian tariffs will increase, according to a certain formula in the two contracts. Note that the Canadian tariffs shown on the graph are as when the premium is zero. If/when there will be a premium, the power tariffs to the said Canadian smelters will be somewhat higher.

Due to limited information, it is still not possible to claim with precision what is the new base-tariff for the Norðurál smelter at Grundartangi in Iceland (which goes into force in 2019). We do, however, know that the new tariff will be linked or aligned to the electricity price on NPS. EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has stated that “Norðurál’s payments to Landsvirkjun for the electricity each month will be tied to the market price for power in the Nordpool Elspot power market (Elspot System Price reference used)“. ESA also says that “pricing mechanism and the risk associated with using the Nordpool Elspot power prices is […] in line with standard commercial practices of competing power companies in the Nordic countries”, and that the “alignment […] with the Nordpool power prices, allows Landsvirkjun to sell power at the same prices as competing companies in the Nordic countries.”

grundartangi-nordural-century-aluminum-elkem-winterWith regard to the above mentioned statements by ESA, we can assume that the new tariff to the Norðurál smelter will be similar or even the same as the tariff paid by industries in the Nordic market. Furthermore, the statements by ESA strongly imply that the new base-tariff to Norðurál is actually the same as the spot price for electricity on NPS (or at least very close to the spot price). Thus, the new tariff to Norðurál shown on the graph above is the same as the average spot price on NPS in 2016 (Elspot) – with certain part of the transmission cost added (the part of the transmission cost which is not included in the Elspot-price).

Of course it is possible that the new base-tariff for Norðurál from 2019 may be somewhat lower than the full Elspot-price, as power companies on the Nordic power market may sometimes offer its largest customers a discount from the spot-price on NPS. However, when having regard to the statements of ESA, and with regard to Landsvirkjun’s tariffs to ISAL/RTA, it seems unlikely that the new contract will be offering Norðurál large discount from the Elspot-price.

Finally, note that the assumed new tariff to Norðurál shown on the graph(s) includes the transmission cost that the aluminum firm has to pay to the Icelandic TSO; Landsnet. And note also that Norðurál will continue to pay its current very low tariff to Landsvirkjun until 2019 (when the new power contract enters into force).

electricity-price-tariffs-to-aluminum-smelters-in-iceland-and-canada_new-contracts-and-current-tariff-to-nordural_aep-2017The power tariff Norðurál is currently paying Landsvirkjun happens to be one of the lowest electricity price enjoyed by any of the world’s two hundred-plus aluminum smelters (Norðurál also buys substantial amount of electricity from two other Icelandic power firms, where the average price is only slightly higher than the tariff it pays to Landsvirkjun). Last year (2016), the average price Norðurál paid for the electricity from Landsvirkjun was well below 20 USD/MWh (transmission cost included), as shown on the graph at left (the red column). So it is obvious that the new contract, coming into force in 2019, will increase Landsvirkjun’s revenues substantially – unless we will experience extremely low prices for electricity on the Nordic Elspot power market during 2019-2023.

Landsvirkjun and Century Aluminum agree on new power tariff

new power contract between Landsvirkjun and the Norðurál smelter of Century Aluminum at Grundartangi in Iceland, was negotiated in 2016. Landsvirkjun describes this contract as an extension of the original contract from 1997. That original contract was amended in 1999, extending the validity of the original power contract to 2019.

lv-nordural-ceo-new-power-contract-2016The new extension, concluded in May 2016, changes the terms of the older contract and will enter into force in 2019. This is a fairly short-time contract/extension, expiring already in 2023. This short time frame of the contract is interesting, as all the earlier Icelandic power contracts with aluminum smelters in Iceland have applied for much longer periods (usually from 20 to 40 years).

The new contract-terms include a major change of the pricing method for energy delivered to Norðurál. From 2019, the tariff will be linked to the market price for power in the Nordic power market (Nord Pool Spot; NPS). This replaces the previous price-link to aluminum prices at the London Metal Exchange (LME), which is used in the current power contract  from 1997/1999.

According to the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), the electricity tariff in the new contract is “tied” to the monthly “market price for power in the Nordpool Elspot power market”. This clear reference to Elspot may not necessarily mean that the new price will be exactly the same as the spot market power price on NPS. However, it is clear that this new pricing method, replacing the previous/current price-link to aluminium price, will make the revenues of Landsvirkjun more aligned with power prices on the Nordic and European power markets. What is also new, is that this being the first power contract with an aluminum smelter in Iceland not having the transmission cost included. Norðurál will need to pay the transmission cost directly to the Icelandic TSO; Landsnet.

nordural-century-aluminum-smelter-grundartangi-iceland-in-winterLinking the power tariff to electricity prices abroad is a new approach in the pricing of Icelandic electricity to aluminum smelters.  This new approach is a clear sign of important changes in the Icelandic power market, moving towards the development on nearby power markets in NW-Europe. The result will probably be a doubling of the current power tariff to the Norðurál smelter, when the new extension comes into effect in 2019 (depending on price development in the Nordic power market).

The new pricing method may explain why the contract was only made for a four-year period (2019-2023). When negotiations between Landsvirkjun and Norðurál were ongoing, in 2015 and early 2016, the Elspot power price at NPS was very low (close to 21 EUR/MWh on average in 2015). The management of Norðurál most likely pushed for aligning the power tariff to the then current low electricity price in NW-Europe and/or N-America, in the hope of avoiding a higher tariff, like Landsvirkjun agreed with the ISAL smelter in 2010. The ISAL smelter in Straumsvík, owned by Rio Tinto, is now paying more than 30 EUR/MWh and a little under 30 EUR when transmission cost is excluded.

Although NPS did experience very low power price in 2015, it is quite possible that the spot price on the Nordic power market will rise in the coming years. Already in 2016, the average Elspot price on NPS was close to 27 EUR/MWh (up from 21 EUR/MWh the year before). So it was obviously quite risky for Norðurál to make a long-term contract based on the Elspot price; thus agreeing on a four year contract only.

Icelink-HVDC-UK-NG-nov-2013-4Landsvirkjun may also have wanted to avoid a new long-term contract, as the necessary power capacity is already available (no new investment in power generation is needed to deliver the power to the Norðurál smelter). The main reason for such a strategy of Landsvirkjun – going for a short-term contract – is the possible construction of an electric HVDC cable between Iceland and Britain (often referred to as IceLink).

If such a subsea interconnector will be developed in the near future, it might become operational around 2025 or few years later. Such an interconnector would offer Landsvirkjun the opportunity to sell power into the high priced electricity market on the UK.  Thus, a short time power contracts makes sense for Landsvirkjun, at this point, rather than making long-term commitments regarding electricity sales to aluminum smelters. This reflects the current strategy of the Norwegian power company Statkraft, which also is focusing on the spot market development rather than making new long-term power contracts.

We at the Icelandic and Northern Energy Portal will soon be analysing this new contract/extension of Landsvirkjun and Norðurál in more details, putting the new tariff into context with other new power contracts in Iceland and Canada. Stay tuned.

Serious geothermal troubles for Reykjavík Energy

Few months ago, we wrote about the troubles of Reykjavík Energy regarding its 303 MW Hellisheiði geothermal plant. Now, an Icelandic newspaper has looked into the matter, and it seems that the future generation of the Hellisheiði plant is somewhat uncertain. Following is a rough translation of a story published yesterday in the daily paper Fréttablaðið:

hellisheidi-geothermal-plant_reykjavik-energy-2Icelandic energy firm ON, a subsidiary of Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Energy) has planned a six-year drilling program, costing ISK 13 billion, just to maintain enough steam for the Hellisheiði geothermal plant. The plant was constructed in three phases in the period 2006-2011. If nothing will be done, this fairly new geothermal power plant will experience rapidly falling generation.

Reykjavik Energy has already announced a tender for the drilling of seven new geothermal wells over the next three years. It is not yet known how many new wells in total will be needed to ensure full generation of the plant. But a newly revised plan of ON allows for 15 new wells to be drilled over the coming ten years.

This is somewhat less drilling than ON had anticipated necessary when the power company first introduced its drilling program last autumn (2016). However, the situation has turned out to be more serious than originally thought in 2013, when the company first admitted the problem of falling steam. The fact is, that very soon after the Hellisheiði station was fully constructed it became clear that the plant would also be needing geothermal steam from the nearby Hverahlíð geothermal area.

The geothermal resource at Hverahlíð now supplies Hellisheiði with enough steam for 50 MW of power capacity. The original geothermal area which the Hellisheiði station is utilizing, now only supplies enough steam for 225 MW (but the plant has an installed capacity of 303 MW). In addition to the cost of drilling for more steam, Reykjavík Energy also needs to invest an estimated ISK five billion over the next five years, for re-injecting water into the deep geothermal source.

reykjavik-energy_hengill-geothermal-areasAlready in 2012, the management of Reykjavík Energy had realized that the Hellisheiði geothermal plant was experiencing falling steam, thus not being able to deliver expected sustainable generation. The following year (2013) it was decided to connect the plant with the nearby geothermal area called Hverahlíð. Until then, Reykjavík Energy had been planning a new 90 MW geothermal station at Hverahlíð, to further supply aluminum industry in Iceland.

The new pipeline from Hverahlíð started delivering steam to the Hellisheiði station in early 2016. The cost of the pipeline was more than ISK three billions. If this pipeline-project would not have been realized, Reykjavík Energy would have needed to drill several new geothermal wells, between 2012 and 2014, at an estimated cost of ISK 700 millions for each well. Such drilling project at that time would have been almost impossible, as the company was in critical financial situation.

In 2013, scientists at Reykjavík Energy predicted that due to over-exploitation of the geothermal resource, the performance of Hellisheiði station would decline by an equivalent of seven MW on average annually. By then, the management realised that the time-frame in which the 303 MW power plant had been constructed, had been unrealistically short.

Now it is generally accepted that geothermal resources in Iceland need to be utilized in smaller phases, to ensure enough geothermal steam for the turbines. And the result of each modest step needs to be analyzed before starting on the next phase.

reykjavik-energy_bjarni-bjarnason-ceo-of-the-year-award-2014Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavík Energy and Chairman of its subsidiary ON, now says that soon after the Hellisheiði plant came into full operation, it became clear that the geothermal area utilized by the plant was not performing as the company had hoped for.

“After mid-year 2014, it became clear that the area was not delivering as sustainable power as had been expected. The falling generation was equivalent to loosing 20 MW of capacity each year, which was much more than had been expected when the plant was designed and constructed.”

Bjarnason acknowledges that this outcome was a shock. And he adds that last autumn (2016) when the company was deciding on future plans and budget, the scenario was “very dark”. [It should be noted that Bjarnason was not working at Reykjavík Energy when decisions where taken regarding construction of the Hellisheiði plant].

The situation Reykvík Energy was faced with in the autumn of 2016, was to drill up to 26 new geothermal wells, just to maintain the production of the Heillisheiði plant. The total new investment in the coming five years was expected to be ISK 27 billion – just to keep the generation of the plant stable at a satisfactory level.

hellisheidi-geothermal-plant_on-2At that time the company launched a special program to analyze the geothermal resource. This research lead to a conclusion which is more positive than the previous estimate from last autumn. It is now expected that the drilling needed to keep the production stable will have a total cost of ISK 19 billions.

This lower cost reflects the new estimate of the resource, resulting in fewer new wells needed to deliver enough energy for the plant. The new geothermal wells are expected be drilled both in the Hellisheiði and Hverahlíð areas, and are supposed to maintain enough steam for 285 MW.

Asked if the decision to connect the Hellisheiði Plant with the geothermal area in Hverahlíð was a mistake – given the current need to undertake a major drilling for more steam – Bjarnason points out that the pipeline to Hverahlíð was both successful and necessary to save the operation of the Hellisheiði plant.

“ When we look at our decision [to connect the Hellisheiði plant with the Hverahlíð geothermal area] it was absolutely correct. And the project itself was successful; no technical problems nor accidents occurred during the construction of the pipeline, despite the snowy winter that year”.

reykjavik-energy_hverahlid-geothermal-areaBjarnason also points out that the steam from Hverahlíð has given Reykjavík Energy the opportunity to reduce exploitation of older geothermal areas. And he claims that it has already become obvious that the already explored areas have recovered faster than expected.

The total cost of Hellisheiði geothermal plant so far is about ISK 94 billion (close to USD 850 millions or just under USD 3 million pr. each MW). Having regard to this cost, it is clear that the extra cost due to the new geothermal wells (ISK 19 billions) is significant. However, Reykjavík Energy would in any case have needed to drill new wells to keep the production of the Hellisheiði plant stable. If original plans would have been realized, the company would in any case have drilled one new geothermal well every year (on average) to keep the generation stable.

The Hellisheiði plants generates 20% of all revenues of Reykjavík Energy. The profitability (return on investment; ROI) of the plant is considered not to be acceptable. According to the annual report of Reykjavík Energy for 2015, the combined ROI of the two geothermal plants at Hellisheiði and Nesjavellir was 4.8% for hot water production and 4.9% for electricity generation. This is much lower return than the normal target for profitability in competitive energy services, where 7-8% return may be seen as acceptable.

Whether the new geothermal wells will return the generation at the Hellisheiði geothermal plant into balance, and offer a satisfactory ROI, remains to be seen. The success of drilling for geothermal steam is always uncertain.