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.”

Proposal for Expanded Highland Protections Protested

Energy companies and some local municipalities are hotly contesting a new proposal to expand environmental protections within the Icelandic highlands, RÚV reports. Per a proposal put forth by the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, a new and expanded national park would include Vatnajökull National Park – already the largest national park in Western Europe – as well as 85% of the central highlands.

The boundaries for the new national park were suggested by a bipartisan committee appointed by the ministry in April 2018. The committee, which included MPs from all of the sitting parties in Alþingi as well as representatives from the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, maintains that expanding the boundaries of the protected area would not negatively impact Vatnajökull National Park’s recent designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The proposal has since been opened for public comment, but will only remain so for the next two weeks, or until August 13.

Although the Association of Local Authorities has been part of the proposal process, however, many municipalities whose boundaries fall within the proposed national park feel that they were not appropriately consulted.

Ásta Stefánsdóttir, head of the district council of Bláskógabyggð in West Iceland says that it was the committee’s job to make proposals about the new national park, not to specifically evaluate the pros and cons of whether this should be done at all. Bláskógabyggð feels that this evaluation has yet to be done and that the current proposal represents an encroachment on the zoning power of local municipalities.

“There are large areas within the highlands that are within Bláskógabyggð and farmers and residents have put a lot of work into reclaiming the land, for instance, in marking riding trails and guiding traffic there, i.e. ensuring that people don’t enter sensitive areas and the like. People are only concerned because if there is some kind of centralised agency, some kind of government agency, which oversees this, that that will somewhat undercut all this volunteer work that people have done.”

Energy companies have also expressed opposition to the proposal. Samorka, the federation of energy and utility companies in Iceland, says that under the new protections, that all new energy generation and transmission would be prohibited in almost half of the country, making current laws about energy protection irrelevant.

For its part, Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland, says that it is necessary that all of its power plants remain outside of protected areas and says that the utilisation of energy resources in the highlands have considerable economic significance for the country overall. The renewable energy produced in the highlands, it says, is the foundation of the nation’s economy and overall quality of life today.