‘This untouched nature needs to be spared’

Strandir wilderness

Thirty landowners from the municipality of Árneshreppur have issued a joint statement protesting three planned hydropower plants which are to be located in the remote Strandir region, RÚV reports. The group says the development will do damage to the area around the Drangajökull glacier.

The landowners’ statement was delivered to the Árneshreppur municipal council, which recently issued a preliminary construction permit that allows for road construction at and around the site of one of the three intended plants, Hvalárvirkjun, as well as the building of a bridge over the Hvalá river, worker’s facilities, and a sewage system, as well as geological surveys around the site. The letter was also sent to the Minister of Industries and Innovation, Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir, the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, and the chairs and vice-chairs of all the parties in parliament.

This is not the first protest that has been issued regarding power plant development in the region. Earlier this week, four nature conservation associations brought charges against the development permit the municipal government of Árneshreppur issued for the first phase of the Hvalárvirkjun power plant in the Westfjords. For one thing, they say, issuing a permit for this first phase of construction, ostensibly for research purposes, is an illegal way to go about obtaining a permit for the entirety of the project. The associations also take great issue with the environmental damage that they say the project will have on the surrounding area.


An “attack on the nature of Strandir”

“We the undersigned owners of properties in Árneshreppur object because the area surrounding the Drangajökull glacier will be permanently disturbed by the hydroelectric power plants…” reads the landowners’ statement.

“Along the rivers that are intended to be harnessed—the Rjúkandi, Hvalá, and Eyvindarfjarðará—there are numerous waterfalls large and small and on the health to the south of Drangajökull there are brilliant blue mountain lakes that few people have ever seen. This untouched nature needs to be spared, as do the wildernesses that form one continuous and delicate ecosystem. There will be no way to reclaim this unspoiled wilderness once it is damaged by the three hydropower stations that HS Orka and Landsvirkjun are planning for the area (Hvalárvirkjun and Skúfnavatnavirkjun, as well as Austurgilsvirkjun). We declare that we will spare no effort in halting this attack on the nature of Strandir…”


Development plants ‘anachronistic in today’s society’

“These grandiose power plant ideas are entirely anachronistic in today’s society,” the letter continues, noting that the protection of unspoiled natural areas is an increasing priority in Iceland. The landowners also contend that the power plant would do nothing to increase electricity security for Westfjord residents themselves: “The electricity will be sold to the highest bidder in the south, most likely to data centres that mine for digital currency, such as Bitcoin.”

The letter concludes by urging the addressees to “listen to those who are nearest to this danger and who want to think of the future.”

Examine Strengthening Westfjords Electricity Transmission

Árneshreppur á Ströndum, Westfjords.

Residents of the remote Westfjords of Iceland have the most unreliable electricity transmission in the country. Interruptions in service occur regularly in the region, often causing damage to products and electrical equipment, and delays in production even once electricity has been restored. RÚV reports that Landsnet, which administers the transmission of electricity across Iceland, has just prepared a new report which lays out three ways to improve the region’s electricity transmission.

The report outlines three possibilities for improving electricity transmission in the region: a so-called “smart” power station in the South Westfjords; a circular transmission connection in the South Westfjords; and a circular transmission connection between the north and south sections of the region. The report also considers the potential impact of new power stations in Ísafjarðardjúp fjord and connections in the region, as well as the planned Hvalárvirkjun power station.

The report does not lay out the costs of the suggested improvements. Landsnet’s 2018-2027 infrastructure plan discusses connecting the planned Hvalárvirkjun plant to their network and strengthening of the South Westfjords network as “projects under consideration.” Neither are included in company’s implementation plan for the next three years.

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.