Decisions on Wind Farms Should Rest with Local Authorities, Not Alþingi, Says Utility Federation

The decision as to whether wind farms should be erected in a given municipality should rest with local authorities—not Alþingi, says Samorka, the federation of energy and utility companies in Iceland, RÚV reports.

A parliamentary working group is currently seeking feedback from utility providers and local municipalities regarding wind energy utilization throughout the country. For its part, Samorka wants to be able to erect wind farms in places where harnessing wind power is facilitated by wind direction, the surrounding landscape, and the existing infrastructure, provided that the local community is in favour of the turbines and that no environmentally protected areas are damaged in the process.

“This is a decision about temporary utilization in a specific area and of course it’s the residents and their elected officials who are best suited to assessing what the impacts will be and whether [the erecting of wind turbines] should go ahead,” said Samorka executive director Finnur Beck.

Background Reading: Green Energy or Giant Eyesore? East Iceland Residents Debate Wind Turbines (November 2021)

The mayor of Fljótsdalshérað, a district in East Iceland that plans to erect wind farms, was recently quoted as being in agreement with Samorka, believing that decisions about this should rest with local communities.

There has been some concern, however, that large-scale windfarms could soon become a feature of landscapes all over the country. Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, has declared wind turbines “an attack on Icelandic nature” and in the wake of various wind utilization proposals, put together a map to help visualize what a potential proliferation of windfarms in Iceland could actually look like. Landvernd says that as many as 40 wind farms are currently on the table.

Landvernd's map showing all the sites that have been proposed for wind energy projects around Iceland. The Icelandic energy and utility federation says that there's no plan to erect wind turbines on all these sites simultaneously. Map via Landvernd.
Landvernd’s map showing all the sites that have been proposed for wind energy projects around Iceland. The Icelandic energy and utility federation says that there’s no plan to erect wind turbines on all these sites simultaneously. Via Landvernd.

Finnur says, however, that the idea was never to erect all of wind farms that had been proposed, simply that a number of potential sites were identified when the National Energy Authority, Orkustofnun, called for proposals.

Asked if Samorka was looking to erect wind farms “all over the place, as some have predicted,” Finnur was quick to demur.

“No, and it’s a good thing you ask about that,” he said. “There was a fair amount time given [for wind energy harnessing proposals] and this led to a number of ideas about potential wind energy projects. But these sites still need to be studied and a lot of work remains to be done in a lot of places and I have no reason to believe—or it is almost definitely out of the question—that [turbines would be erected] in all of the places that have been identified as potential wind energy utilization sites in the current framework programme.”

East Iceland Startup Makes Beverages Flavored with Locally Foraged Herbs

A start-up in East Iceland is producing nonalcoholic beverages using wild, Icelandic herbs, Austurfrétt reports. The company, Könglar (meaning ‘pine cones’), has been selling its beverages at restaurants throughout East Iceland since earlier this year and aims to be a truly local product. “People are always asking us if it’s possible to get [our drinks] in the [capital area],” says marketing manager Brynjar Darri Sigurðsson. “And we always say, ‘no, you have to come out East.’”

Producer Dagrún Drótt Valgarðsdóttir got the idea for making natural beverages from local, Icelandic ingredients after sampling a blueberry drink made in Finland. “We started to wonder if we could use that method using the nature we have here,” she says.

Könglar received subsidies from the municipality of Fljótsdalshérað, as well as the government’s Food Fund, which aims to “strengthen development and innovation in the production and processing of food and by-products from agricultural and marine products,” with an emphasis “on innovation, sustainability, value creation and the competitiveness of Icelandic food throughout the country.”

Thus far, the company’s beverages, all of which have names inspired by local folk tales, include a lovage drink, a dandelion iced tea, and a rhubarb soda. Dagrún says their focus has been “to use what’s around us as much as possible” instead of opting for imported produce or ingredients that aren’t native to Iceland. So, for instance, if they want the flavor profile of a tart, green apple, they use rhubarb, which is plentiful in East Iceland. In the future, Dagrún says Könglar would like to use their same production and infusion methods to make herbal-flavored beers and wine.

Follow Könglar on Instagram, here.

East Iceland Votes in New “Home Councils” Next Week

East Iceland residents go to the polls next week to vote in the first government of a newly-merged municipality. Residents of Borgarfjarðarhreppur, Fljótsdalshérað, Seyðisfjörður, and Djúpavogshreppur voted last October to merge their municipalities under a single government. Each of the four localities will also elect a so-called “home council,” representing a brand-new form of local government in Iceland.

The new municipality, which is yet to be named, will be the largest in Iceland, at over 11,000 square kilometres (4,250 square miles) and will contain around 5,000 residents. Five parties are running for election to the new government: Austurlistinn, the Progressive Party, the Centre Party, the Independence Party, and the Left-Green Movement. In addition to the municipal council, each of the four localities will also have a three-person home council, which will serve as a link between the municipal government and the locality’s residents. The concept is built on experimental provisions on governance in 2011 legislation concerning local government. This will be the first time the provision is applied.

Read More: Municipal Mergers in Iceland

When they show up to the polls, East Iceland residents will not only be voting on council members but also nominating residents to their own home council. Everyone who holds the right to vote is eligible to sit on a home council, and to nominate someone, voters simply write down their name and address on the ballot. This means that interested parties do not necessarily need to campaign publicly to win a seat on their home council. Those who would like to do so, however, are able to register online.

Two out of three members of each home council will be drawn from the locality, while the third member will be a sitting municipal councillor. Home councils will hold a significant amount of authority within each locality. They will oversee detailed land-use plans, the granting of licenses, nature conservation, and cultural events in their area.

Arctic Hydro Planning Hydroelectric Station in East Iceland

The Iceland-based company Arctic Power is in the planning phase for constructing a hydroelectric power station in the Fljótsdalshérað district of the East Fjords, RÚV reports. The plant would be located on the Geitdalsá river and would also include an intake reservoir of nearly three-square kilometres in Leirudalur valley, which lies to the east of Hornbrynja mountain. A two-year research phase is being initiated in advance of project construction and will include an environmental assessment that is set to take place this summer. The final scale of the station and its accompanying reservoir will depend on what the company discovers during this research phase, but it’s expected that the plant could potentially be up and running within the next five years.

The plans for the project have been underway for quite some time, but Arctic Hydro has now requested changes to the Fljótsdalshérað land use plan, which is why a new environmental assessment needs to take place.

Multi-Dam System

The power station would be fed water via a multi-part system of dams and natural river channels. Its intake reservoir is currently planned to hold 30 gigalitres of water. (One gigalitre is equivalent to a billion litres.) To accumulate this quantity of water, a dam would first need to be constructed on the Leirudalsá river that would be one km [.62 m] long and 18 metres [59 ft] high. The water would be channelled out of this intermediate reservoir down the Leirudalsá river and then down the Geitdalsár river into the intake reservoir. This would also require the construction of a dam measuring 300 metres [984 ft] long and 32 metres [104 ft] high at the point where this river meets the Ytri-Sauðá river.

The water in the intake lagoon would then flow into a 6.6 km [41 m] down pipe, fall 230 metres [755 ft], and from there flow into the power station itself, where electricity would be created by the power station’s turbines and then transported another 17 km [10.5 m] via underground cables to the Landsnet substation at Hryggstekkur.

Scaling Expectations

“We’ve been looking at an 8-15 MW power station,” explained Arctic Power CEO Skírnir Sigurbjörnsson. “But based on flow studies, it seems like 9 MW would be most suitable. “…A nearby example that locals are familiar with is the lagoon for the Seyðisfjörður power station—when you drive over Fjarheiður heath into Seyðisfjörður. This would be on a similar scale to that, I’d say.” Skírnir continued that the final size of the reservoir and the power station itself will be determined after further research and the results of the environmental assessment. A draft of the assessment plan will be published in the next few weeks.

Skírnir also said that the new power station and reservoir would have additional side benefits for the region. For one, the dam system for the new reservoir would create a more uniform water flow on the rivers, which, during the winter months in particular, would mean better utilisation potential for the existing power station on the Grímsá river, further down in the catchment area. Arctic Hydro would also create a new service road into Geitdalur and Leirudalur valleys, which Skírnir says would increase access to the area and connect to a trail that runs from Öxi í Bjarnarhíð.

Fljótsdalshérað would also generate income, Skírnir said, through the power station’s property taxes as well as the fee that the company would pay to rent water useage rights from the district. The district currently holds half of the rights, the Icelandic government the other half. For the first five years, the rental agreement would see 2.5% of all of the power station’s earnings be paid in return for water usage rights, but this would then go up to 5%, and finally 10% in stages, over 30 years from the time the power station opens.

See a diagram of the current power station dam and reservoir plan here.

Population Control of Wild Cats in East Iceland Hotly Contested

Efforts to cull stray cats in the Fljótsdalshérað district of East Iceland have met with severe criticism from a local organization that aims to safely monitor and release or else find homes for these villikettir, or wild cats, RÚV reports.

Villikettir á Austurlandi, or ‘Wild Cats in East Iceland,’ is a nonprofit that operates under the auspices of the Villikettir animal welfare organization. Per the description on their Facebook page, the organization aims to “care for wild and homeless cats in the region, providing them with shelter and food. The organization operates according to the ethos of TNR: Trap – Neuter – Release.” The aim of this approach is to control the population of wild cats without killing them. The cats taken in by Villikettir are dewormed and vaccinated before the staff attempts to get them used to being around people and find them homes. If the cats can’t be tamed, they are released again, but the organization ensures that they have access to shelter and food.

Villikettir has struck agreements with six municipalities to take the lead on controlling their wild cat populations, but Fljótsdalshérað rejected their assistance. Instead, the municipality intends to set traps for wild cats. Residents have been told to keep their pet cats indoors at night from February 18 to March 8. Any wild cats that are caught during this time period will be euthanized. Villikettir asked to take possession of these cats so they would not be put down, but their request was denied.

Fljótsdalshérað mayor Björn Ingimarsson says the municipality is acting in accordance to the law. After consultation with the Public Health Authority and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), he says, it’s clear that it isn’t permissible to collaborate with Villikettir under the terms that organization has set out. A letter from MAST on the subject notes that wild cats are categorized as semi-wild animals and must either be provided with a permanent home or euthanized. Likewise, it is not permissible to release animals that have grown up with people into the wild. Villikettir cannot, according to the letter, guarantee these animals the welfare required by current laws related to domestic animals. The ear tagging system that the organization suggested is also said to be illegal.

Villikettir á Austurlandi says that in the year it has been operational, it has provided services for 54 cats, most of which were found new and permanent homes. Only six cats needed to be released back into the wild.