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.”

Hot-Water Supply Nearing Limit, Rationing to be Considered

Krísuvík - Seltún - hverasvæði - Reykjanes

The nation’s hot-water supply is nearing its limit, Vísir reports. Utility companies may need to begin rationing hot water during long periods of cold weather, a specialist at Samorka has stated.

Demand outpacing supply

Samorka, a federation of energy and utility companies in Iceland, held an open meeting at the Harpa Conference Hall yesterday. During the meeting, specialists assessed the hot-water supply of the largest utility companies and reviewed forecasts of future demand.

In an interview with Vísir, Lovísa Árnadóttir, Samorka’s public relations officer, stated that the situation at the nation’s utility companies was serious: hot-water use has outpaced population growth. Utility companies are stretched to the limit trying to meet the current demand – not to mention the growing demand in the future. The demand in the capital area is expected to increase by 3% annually.

“If we peer further into the future, to the year 2060, for example, forecasts suggest that the output of the entire heating system would need to be doubled. In terms of relative size: the Hellisheiði Power Station, which provides hot water for most of Reykjavík, is approximately twice the size of the Kárahnjúka Power Station. And so we’re talking about a lot of energy, and doubling the output is no small task,” Lovísa told Vísir.

Approximately 60% of the energy used in Iceland comprises hot water for domestic heating, baths, and other household consumption. This amounts to 43 terawatt hours (a unit of energy equal to outputting one trillion watts for one hour), or twice the amount of energy produced by all of the nation’s electric power stations.

“The current production areas are already operating at maximum capacity, and so we need to look for ways to make them more efficient. We could do this by, for example, encouraging individuals to use their hot water more frugally,” Lovísa remarked. This could be accomplished by encouraging individuals to take brief showers instead of baths and by managing sidewalk heating during the summer. Utility companies all over Iceland are considering their next steps.

“The problem is that geothermal exploration takes a long time, which is part of the problem why we’re struggling to meet demand right now: because increased demand has exceeded forecasts and geothermal exploration can take a decade. Familiarising ourselves with new geothermal systems also takes time.”

Changing consumption patterns

Speaking in layman’s terms, Almar Barja, a specialist at Samorka, stated that utility companies may need to ration hot water, possibly to households, businesses, and service providers – in the event of long periods of cold weather this winter or the next. According to Almar, it is not clear how the problem is to be solved, at least in the short term, an article in Vísir notes.

Almar also noted that consumption patterns were changing, with individuals opting for roomier homes, more people choosing to live alone, and families shrinking. All of this means that an increasingly greater number of square metres need to be heated. Almar added that Samorka was also not seeing frugal use among consumers nor the expected contraction in hot-water use following directives on the insulation of houses, the improved insulation of new houses, e.g. by floor heating.”