Arctic Policy Tours

The Institute of the North has hosted productive and meaningful visits for Alaska’s leaders to neighboring Arctic states over the last five years with delegations visiting Norway, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, and to Chukotka.

Policy tours provide the opportunity to examine energy, resource and economic development lessons and best practices from northern nations while also sharing Alaska’s interests and perspectives with international northern leaders. Participants bring new ideas and opportunities back to the state.

2016 Russia Policy Tour

The 2016 Russia Policy Tour will feature visits to Moscow and Murmansk, and to relevant Arctic, economic development, shipping, energy and research organizations.

2014 Finland Policy Tour

The Policy Tour will take place 20 years after Governor Hickel gave his “Vision for the Arctic Community” speech in Roveniemi.  In Finland, Alaska business, policy and community leaders will spend four days exploring Finland’s economic and resource development agenda, better understanding its position in the Arctic, and learning more about issues ranging from icebreakers to education. Not only will Alaska leaders have an opportunity to learn about what Finland is doing right, but the group will be able to share Alaska’s lessons with those they meet along the way and bring back to the state the results of those conversations.

Key takeaways

  • Differentiation between “Finland is Arctic” and “Lapland is the Arctic.”
  • Government investment in R&D third highest in world at 3.5/4.5% – clear commitment to people, knowledge, experience, know-how that is fundamental, exportable asset
  • 50% of R&D is applied, working in close collaboration with industry – able to move from research to technology to economic development very effectively
  • Broader perspective of Finland as an island has led to consensus around vision and policy objectives focused on competitive advantages
  • Ice management and navigation – 100 years of experience and having built/designed 60% of the world’s icebreakers – is a clear value proposition for taking advantage of Arctic opportunity
  • Transportation priority is to secure safe and economic marine operations
  • Belief in and commitment to leveraging technology in pursuit of a sustainable approach to Arctic
  • Strategic cooperation with Russia, longstanding relationship with Scandinavia, and inclusion in EU are all important international relations goals
  • The Barents-Euro Arctic Region is a major investment area (100 billion euros within 10 years – gas, mining, tourism, energy, transportation, and infrastructure)

2013 Iceland Policy Tour

Iceland’s President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, has repeatedly highlighted the strong friendship between his country and Alaska. Indeed, he was here just last summer stressing the need for new ways to build relationships in the “New North.” Alaska is in a pivotal position for strengthening cooperation in our neighborhood, the Arctic, and President Grimsson has extended an invitation for us to visit and learn from what Iceland has done. In Iceland, Alaskans will have an opportunity to look at a global leader in the development of geothermal energy. The benefits that have accompanied that energy development are dramatic. Alaska business, policy and community leaders, along with energy experts and utility operators, will spend five days exploring Iceland’s geothermal and hydropower development and the corresponding economic and infrastructure development. Not only will Alaska leaders have an opportunity to learn about what Iceland’s doing right, the group will be able to share its experience with those they meet along the way and bring back to the state the results of that conversation.

Iceland Policy Tour Daily Blog
November 29, 2012

Today we experienced all-things geothermal, starting with a tour of the Hellisheidi Geothermal Plant. Managed by Orkuveita Reykjavikur (Reykjavik Energy) and situated on an active volcanic ridge, this plant is doing more than working to meet demands for electricity and hot water of the industrial sector. It is also a unique visitor destination, and we definitely see why! We enjoyed presentations here by Mannvit and Verkis, both engineering firms that work extensively on geothermal energy projects.

We also visited the town of Selfoss and toured Selfossveitur district heating. Simply put, district heating uses hot water directly from geothermal sources to heat buildings in a certain area. It is efficient too:  an average house in this particular service area costs the equivalent of two cans of coke a day ($1.40 USD) to heat.

Another important use for geothermal heating is keeping greenhouses warm. We witnessed this first hand today at the Fludasveppir mushroom processing plant. We finished the day with a friendly reception hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We were joined by many of the great people we’ve met throughout our visit.

We have been pleased to hear great dialogue among tour participants about topics from fishing quotas to energy efficiency, from economic development to national diplomacy, from currency controls to trade balance. With so much productive dialogue and collaboration around tough energy issues, we definitely agree with the Icelandic attitude that a small population isn’t excuse for inaction. Ekkert mal=No problem!


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November 28, 2012

We had a full agenda Í dag (today), beginning with a presentation by Gekon, a consulting company that has mapped the Icelandic Geothermal Cluster.  A Cluster is a group of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field, both private and public. Gekon’s approach emphasizes education and research, and the goal of building knowledge at home– for example, increasing the number of Icelandic patents rather than relying on other nations to be innovators.

At the Ministry of Industries and Innovation, the conversation highlighted the fact that Iceland is a large territory with low population density, great distances between communities and resources, but a strategic global location. Alaskans, does this sound familiar?

The Ministers emphasized the importance of Iceland’s work toward diversifying their relatively small and open economy. Our attention was also brought to two important policy documents that complement the Master Plan for Geothermal and Hydropower: Comprehensive Energy Strategy for Iceland, which supports diversified industry and renewable energy; and Energy Change in the Transport Sector, which sets goals for transitioning fuel-use for the transportation sector to renewable energy sources.

After lunch our team split up between Verne Global (data centre), Reykjavik Geothermal, and the University of Iceland. We’re still debriefing as a group, but so far everyone has great reports from their breakout sessions. Thanks to these three institutions for hosting us!

We rounded out the day with a wonderful dinner hosted by President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson at his residence. President Grímsson is a longtime and valued friend of the Institute of the North, and was the recipient of the Robert O. Anderson Sustainable Arctic Award in 2010. (We were pleased and honored to see his award displayed in his home).


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November 27, 2012

Greetings from Egilsstaðir! This inland community in East Iceland is surrounded by glacially-carved landscapes, lakes and rivers, and the massive Vatnajökull (glacier) to the south. What a great place to see hydroelectric power generation in action!

We began very early this morning with a short flight to Egilsstaðir. From there, Landsvikjun coordinated much of our very informative day. Landsvikjun is the state-owned power generator and project manager for the Kárahnjúkar Dam, which is nearby. Unfortunately, due to weather, we were unable to visit the dam site. However, everyone was pleased with the in-depth (quite literally) tour of the Fljótsdalur power station, where we traveled through underground tunnels to see the inner workings of the plant.

Landsvikjun hosted a lunch for our group at the iconic house of Gunnar Gunnarsson, the famed Icelandic author and poet of the early to mid 20th century. To round out the day, we visited the Alcoa aluminum smelter, an energy-intensive industry that uses most of the electricity produced by Kárahnjúkar Dam. Alcoa’s commitment to sustainability and community engagement has led to their strong role in helping address social and environmental challenges in the area. During the early stages of construction of the dam and smelter, Landsvirkjun and Alcoa worked together to launch a sustainability initiative with the aim of creating sustainable development that maximizes positive social, environmental, and economic impacts and minimizing negative impacts wherever possible.

Tomorrow we meet with the Ministry of Industries and Innovation. Sjáumst! See you later!


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November 26, 2012

Velkominn! Welcome to Iceland! The Institute of the North and the Policy Tour team had a busy, fun, and informative first day here in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Reykjavik translates to “Smoky Bay” and was named for the steam rising from abundant geothermal sources in the area. Today, Iceland is a model for geothermal and hydroelectric resource development for power generation. That is why we are here – to see this resource development in action and to learn best practices, all with the intent of bringing this information back to Alaskans.

At Althingi (Parliament) we learned about a political debate regarding ownership of Iceland’s resources. Iceland is currently revising its constitution; one new proposal would allow Iceland to keep any resources not currently privately owned and hold them on behalf of the nation. Iceland’s vision is that future generations will own resources, not private or international interests.

Did you know Iceland has a Master Plan for Geothermal and Hydropower Development in Iceland? This is a document that maps and ranks these renewable energy options in Iceland by a variety of factors: from tourism and nature, to development cost and location.

At Landsvirkjun, the state-owned power generator, we heard that one possibility for mitigating risk in the Icelandic power sector would be to connect Iceland’s electrical grid to that of the United Kingdom – a project that is in the research and development stage.

We finished the day with a visit to the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Luis E. Arreaga. Both the U.S. Embassy and the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs call for friendly trade and collaboration between the U.S. and Iceland as Arctic neighbors. Everyone here sends a big thanks to Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for sponsoring fresh Alaskan seafood at the Ambassador’s recption tonight.

With a day like that it was easy to forget our jetlag, but we will need the rest for tomorrow: we travel to the town of Egilsstadir for a tour of the Kárahnjúkar Dam, which has a similar capacity and design to the proposed Susitna-Watana Dam in Alaska. Until tomorrow!

Executive Summary – Iceland Policy Tour

Questions to Explore: Iceland Policy Tour

Lessons From Iceland

2012 Norway Policy Tour

Norway has developed a quality of life – measured by income, wealth, health, education and a sustainable future – that is the envy of many. Norway is like Alaska in important ways. It lies in the Arctic north. Save for its capital Oslo, it is sparsely populated. Norway’s main industries include hydrocarbons, seafood and mining. It is a constitutional democracy. And Norway has a vast savings account similar to Alaska’s Permanent Fund. As Norway’s Consul General recently said on a trip to Alaska – “there is no other country as similar to Alaska as Norway.”

Alaskans can point to numerous positive indicators that the rest of the country can’t. State surpluses thanks to oil income, large capital budgets, extensive savings and a Permanent Fund dividend all promise quality of life improvements to Alaska’s citizens. But Alaska’s economic future is in question. Oil production from the North Slope is in advanced stages of decline; natural gas development and export, never a substitute for the far more lucrative oil trade, is in question; and federal funds are ramping down.

Alaska business, policy and social leaders spent a week exploring two themes: Energy, Natural Resources and Economic Development; and Public Finance and Government. Not only did Alaska leaders have an opportunity to learn about what Norway’s doing right, the group has shared its experience with others and brought back to the state the results of that conversation.