The third phase of the Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilisation was passed through Parliament yesterday, with 34 votes for and seven against. Fifteen abstained from voting. The Master Plan was last passed through Parliament just under ten years ago and has often proven divisive as it mandates which rivers will be developed for hydropower plants and which ones will be allowed to remain untouched. Before the Master Plan passed through Parliament, the Environment and Communications Committee made some compromises that have been hotly contested by nature conservationists and the minority parties in Parliament.
An outline of which rivers will be developed for Hydro power plants
The Master Plan contains a list of locations where hydropower plants could theoretically rise and divides them into three categories: the Energy Utilisation category for places suitable for power plant construction, the On-hold category for places that require more research and preparation to figure out if they’re suitable or not, and the Protected category, for places that are deemed necessary for nature conservation.
Controversial options put on hold
The Environment and Communications Committee’s majority published the results of their work recently and in what looks like an effort to compromise and hold off on making decisions about controversial locations, Kjalölduveita and Héraðsvötn will be moved from the Protection category to On Hold while Skrokkalda and powerplants in the lower part of Þjórsá river will be moved from the Energy Utilisation category to the on-hold category.
Minority and conservationists object, division within majority parties
Representatives of the Icelandic Environment Association have stated that there is no new data to support moving these two places to the on-hold category and that the change is entirely political. Three minority parties in Parliament had suggested an amendment to the bill that would keep Héraðsvötn and Kjalölduveita in the protected category instead of moving them to the On-hold category. The suggestion was rejected with 33 votes against 21. One MP abstained and Bjarni Jónsson, MP for the Left-green movement voted for it, the only MP in the Majority to do so. Bjarni is one of the Left-green Movements representatives in the Environment and Communications Committee and refused to sign the committee’s report, due to his opposition to moving Héraðsvötn to the On-hold category.
Orri Páll Jóhannsson, the other of two Left-Green representatives in the committee told RÚV: “If we need to enlarge the on-hold category to pass it through parliament I will stick by the decision with the arguments mentioned in the committee report, reiterating that power options in the on-hold category will be reassessed.” On the subject of Héraðsvötn and Kjalölduveita, Orri recognised that the rivers have significant nature conservation interest but that they are controversial and need to be investigated further. He maintained that moving these places to the on-hold category did not mean that they would be moved to the energy utilisation category straight away, absolutely not.