Permit for Hydropower Plant in West Fjords Contested by Environmentalists

From Hvalá river.

From Hvalá river. Sigurður Bogi Sævarsson

Vala Hafstað

Four environment associations have filed a complaint to the Environmental and Natural Resources Complaints Board, contesting the decision on June 13 by Árneshreppur district to grant Vesturverk a development permit for the first phase of Hvalá hydropower plant in Ófeigsfjörður fjord, the West Fjords, RÚV reports.

The associations in question are Landvernd (the Icelandic Environment Association), Rjúkandi, the Iceland Nature Conservation Association and Ungir umhverfissinnar (Young Environmentalists). They demand that work be halted on the project until the Environmental and Natural Resources Complaints Board has reviewed the issue.

The permit involves research of geological aspects, road construction, roads to and from the area, building a bridge over Hvalá river, the extraction of material and deposit thereof, the building of a drainage system, obtaining drinking water, and huts for workers.

“We’re contesting the development permit for the first phase of Hvalá hydropower plant,” Auður Magnúsdóttir, Landvernd’s CEO, tells RÚV.  “We detail a number of reasons for revoking this development permit. Among other things, we don’t believe it’s legal to divide up the zoning this way, as was done in this case.

From Árneshreppur district.

From Árneshreppur district. mbl.is/Golli

“Permits were given incrementally for the project. We believe that the environment protection law is being violated. Road construction material will be extracted from a lake which is protected, according to the environment protection law. Besides, uninhabited wilderness will be adversely impacted by road construction.

“On top of that, the permit states that roads will be built for the purpose of research. But it’s clear as day that building roads is unnecessary for conducting research. So, the landscape will be adversely impacted in the name of unnecessary research. In reality, this is the beginning of the construction of the plant, and roads are being built, which the plant requires.”

When asked whether this is the business of people who are not locals, Auður responds, “Yes, of course this is our business. This uninhabited wilderness, the waterfalls and the lakes, are everybody’s business. The area is exceptionally beautiful, valuable and unique, in Europe at least, and in fact worldwide.”

On June 24, owners of the majority of the land Drangavík in Strandir, contested the zoning process and the issuing of the development permit, insisting that the zoning was based on incorrect property boundaries and that, as a result, part of the project is on their land.  The owners involved in the complaint are opposed to the hydropower plant, and have no interest in negotiating water rights for the plant with its builders, Vesturverk.

Auður Önnu Magnúsdóttir, CEO of Landvernd.

Auður Önnu Magnúsdóttir, CEO of Landvernd.

The landowners want the wilderness to remain unspoiled and don’t believe the plant will benefit the population in Strandir in any way, but rather ruin any opportunities involved in environmentally friendly economic activity in the area. They further state that the plant is not needed to ensure electrical security in the West Fjords, and they believe its construction will have a negative impact on the environment, due to power transmission lines.

The Hvalá hydropower plant will involve harnessing power from three rivers – Hvalá, Rjúkandi and Eyvindarfjarðará. The plant will have an estimated power of 55 MW and is expected to produce 320 GWh a year, which, according to RÚV, is more than the combined energy usage in the West Fjords. 

From Hvalá river.

From Hvalá river. Sigurður Bogi Sævarsson

Proponents of the plant maintain it is needed for energy security in the West Fjords, in addition to creating jobs, while opponents harshly criticize its environmental impact. The National Planning Agency, one of the agencies which has criticized its environmental impact, stated in its report on the proposed plant that it would reduce the largest continuous uninhabited wilderness in the West Fjords by 14 percent or 226 km2.

HS Orka has a 70 percent stake in Vesturverk, while 30 percent is owned by private parties in the West Fjords. The owners of HS Orka are Magma Energy Sweden (53.9 percent), Jarðvarmi (33.4 percent) and the investment fund Örk (12.7 percent). Foreign ownership in Vesturverk, according to RÚV, is close to 38 percent. 

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