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The Fljótsdalur Hydro Project
The Fljótsdalur hydro project is in the eastern part of Iceland. It will be 210 MW and produce some 1400 GWh per year. Construction began in 1991 but was halted as market for the power did not develop as expected. The decision to resume construction has been a hotly debated issue in Iceland in recent months. The main emphasis in the debate has been on the Eyjabakkar wetlands area that will to a large extent be inundated due to the creation of a 43 km² reservoir. Through improvement in design, Landsvirkjun, The National Power Company, has succeeded in reducing the area of submerged land from the original plan that would have created several reservoirs covering 82 km².
· Legal status
A hydro project in Fljótsdalur has been under consideration since the 1950's with intensive research beginning in 1975. Althingi, the legislative assembly of Iceland, passed an act authorizing the hydro project in 1981. In 1982 Landsvirkjun undertook by an agreement with the government to construct and operate the power station. In 1991 the Minister of Industry issued a permit for construction to begin. In 1993 the Althingi passed the first Icelandic legislation on Environmental Impact Assessment. As the law is not retroactive it does not apply to the Fljótsdalur project. In December 1999 the Althingi passed a Parliamentary Resolution with 39 votes in favour and 22 against, which confirmed its earlier decision to authorize the Fljótsdalur hydropower project.
· Extensive research
Research on the area and on the environmental impact of the project has been thorough and extensive. It has been conducted by independent specialists and agencies commissioned for this task. The research has been ongoing for more than 25 years and has now been concluded by the publishing of a report on the environmental impact of the project. Landsvirkjun has published the report in order to give the public and the authorities an adequate overview of the issues involved.
· Environmental impact of the project
In November 1999, the Landsvirkjun report on the environmental impact of the Fljotsdalur Hydro Project was presented to the Althingi.
The main findings of the report are the following:
- Of the 43 km² area of land which will be submerged by the reservoir, some 27 km² have at least partial vegetation cover. The local flora is well known. No plant species have been found at Eyjabakkar which are on the list of endangered plants. The area is considered of value as part of a larger vegetated region extending almost uninterrupted from the sea and inland to Eyjabakkajökull glacier, a distance of some 140 km. The area is one of two main vegetated floodplains known in the central highland. The other, Thjorsarver, is a nature protection area.
- The terminal moraines from the most extended surge of the glacier in 1890 are special in their form and structure due to the wet vegetated soil that was pushed up in front of it. Similar forms are found in front of the outlet glacier, Brúarjökull, west of Eyjabakkajökull.
- Research has shown that part of the reindeer stock uses Eyjabakkar for grazing, especially in August, when large herds are sometimes seen there on their way to their winter grounds.
Barren geese use Eyjabakkar to moult their flight feathers in midsummer and are grounded for a period of 3-4 weeks. In the summer of 1979 some 1,300 birds were counted in the area. Since then, moult geese at Eyjabakkar have increased in number, peaking in 1991 at around 13,000. Their number declined the following year and they now number 8,000 -9,000. Only a handful of pink-footed geese nest in the Eyjabakkar area. The stock in the North Atlantic region has been growing rapidly in recent years. Moulting grounds for the geese can be found in many places in Iceland and there is no reason to think that the reservoir at Eyjabakkar would not be chosen for moulting by a substantial number of them. In fact, hundreds of geese have chosen new reservoirs in other parts of Iceland as their moulting grounds in recent years. Only 1/5 of the moulting geese moult in Iceland, most of them (4/5) moult in Greenland.
- Construction of the Fljótsdalur station is expected to be positive for tourism due to improved access. Road building for the power project has already yielded an increase in the number of people visiting the area.
- The hydropower project will, along with the construction and operation of an aluminium plant at Reydarfjördur, on the east coast of Iceland, have positive economic impact both locally and nationally.
· Mitigating actions
The most substantial mitigating actions will be to restore wetlands and revegetate barren areas elsewhere in Iceland not necessarily in the immediate vicinity of the hydropower development site, but rather where such reclamation work is regarded as being the most productive.
· Use of the electricity from Fljótsdalur
The electricity produced by Fljótsdalur hydro project will be utilized in a 120.000 tons/year aluminium plant to be constructed at Reydarfjördur in the eastern part of Iceland, some 40 km as the crow flies from the power station. According to the present plan, Icelandic investors and Hydro Aluminium, Norway, will own the plant. The aluminium plant is, according to the Act of 1993, currently undergoing environmental impact assessment.
Agenda 21 which was adopted at the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol adopted in Kyoto in 1997 emphasize the use of renewable energy resources wherever possible in the fight against climate change and for the protection of the atmosphere. The Icelandic government regards the Fljótsdalur project and the aluminium plant as an important contribution in this respect. Locating an aluminium plant in Iceland using hydropower reduces the total emissions of all greenhouse gases from the combined electricity and aluminium production by a factor of 7 or more compared with an aluminium plant using electricity produced in thermal power station using coal.
· For further information on the Fljotsdalur hydro project see the Home Page of Landsvirkjun, The National Power Company, www.lv.is
· For further information on renewable energy resources in Iceland see the Home Page of Orkustofnun, the National Energy Authority www.os.is
· For further information on the renewable energy resources see also www. landvernd.is/natturuafl
· For the EIA report on the Reydarfjördur aluminium plant in English see www.star.is