Minister of Industries and Innovation Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir has spoken in favor of constructing a hydropower plant in Norðlingaalda in Þjórsárver, which status as a highland nature reserve was postponed in June.
Norðlingaalda would thus be moved from the protection to utilization category in the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources, approved by parliament in January after having been worked on since 1999.
Ragnheiður visited the area with representatives of Landsvirkjun, the national power company, last week and stated after the trip that she is now more convinced than before that the Norðlingaölduveita plant can be built without ramifications for Þjórsárver, a nesting colony for one third of the world’s pink-footed geese stock.
“It’s not just an advantageous option for harnessing and distributing energy but also highly environmentally friendly as the water in Þjórsá [river] would be harnessed in a more efficient way than is currently the case, by being channeled through more power plants,” Ragnheiður told Fréttablaðið.
Former Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir is critical of Ragnheiður’s intentions, claiming that they are at odds with the legislation and solidarity parliament had reached. “She speaks of reconciliation but reconciliation had already been achieved—the parliament had reached an agreement. Ragnheiður Elín is disrupting it.”
“Norðlingaalda is in the protection category and that is a fact regardless of what Ragnheiður Elín might think of it,” Svandís added. She pointed out that the Environment Agency of Iceland is obligated by law to start the preservation process of all areas in the master plan’s protection category.
“It’s a matter of concern if the executive has so little respect for the law that a minister believes that it’s possible in cooperation with power company representatives to take energy options out of the protection category and put them in the utilization category,” Svandís concluded.
Chair of nature protection organization Landvernd Guðmundur Hörður Guðmundsson has made Ragnheiður a proposal. “It was obviously a successful trip [with Landsvirkjun] but I doubt all viewpoints were heard. So we would like to formally invite the minister to a waterfall tour so that she can see Dynkur, Kjálkaversfoss and Gljúfurleitarfoss, which would all disappear if these plans are carried out.”
Director of Landsvirkjun Hörður Arnarson told Fréttablaðið that the company is looking into different options of a hydropower plant in Norðlingaalda for nature protection purposes, so that the waterfalls would not be affected to as large an extent as earlier plans had assumed.
Hörður pointed out that the water flow could be channeled in different ways and dams shrunk or relocated. “People have been concerned about, among other issues, whether the dam would extend into Eyvafen [a vegetated dell south of Þjórsárver]. We are looking into ways to spare that area.”