The disruptions that would accompany the power project under consideration in the Austurengjar area would have an impact on the entire area and transform the appearance of Lake Kleifarvatn. The construction of a 50 MW electric power station is planned in the area.
The Krýsuvík Area
The Krýsuvík area encompasses several small geothermal systems that are all connected to the Krýsuvík volcanic system. The main areas are Sveifluháls, Austurengjar, Trölladyngja and Sandfell. Geothermal activity can also be found at Syđri Stapi in Lake Kleifarvatn, at Köldunámur and at the hot spring Hver.
This geothermal energy is generated along the fissures of the volcanic system. Near the center of the system lies a ridge of tuff (a type of volcanic rock) called Núpshlíđarháls, and on either side of this ridge lava formations and volcanic ravines can be found. In places, the tuff has condensed allowing small streams to flow out onto the lava fields, where vegetation then flourishes, for example at Höskuldarvellir, Selsvellir, Vigdísarvellir and Tjarnarvellir. Outside of these geothermal areas, running surface water is virtually unheard of in the Reykjanes mountain range west of Hellisheiđi heath.
Currently, there are plans to build power plants in the area, thus endangering wildlife and the quality of the water. In the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources, four power projects are proposed in the Krýsuvík area. All are classified as exploitable or awaiting further assessment. Sandfell and Sveifluháls are classified as exploitable, while the proposals for Trölladyngja and Austurengjar await further assessment.
Plans for energy production in the area are linked to proposed aluminum processing in Helguvík. In the National Energy Authority‘s evaluation, the Krýsuvík area is treated as a single area estimated to cover 89 km˛ with a potential power output of 445 MW for 50 years, making it the third largest in Iceland after the Hengill area and the Torfajökull area. Doubts have been expressed concerning this estimate, especially as it does not seem to concur with the results of research drillings carried out in the area around 1970. Independent research indicates that the area‘s total output capacity is approximately 120 MW for 50 years, whereas the proposed aluminum plant at Helguvík would require 650 MW.
Furthermore, the power proposal is not considered sustainable, as the energy in the area would most likely be depleted within a few decades. For a power plant to be considered sustainable, the area should be exploitable for at least 200-300 years.
Over 60% of Icelanders live in the vicinity of the unspoiled natural environment of the Krýsuvík area and Reykjanesskagi peninsula. As such, the area is ideal for outdoor activities, and the landscape is reminiscent of the unspoiled expanses of the Iceland highlands. Ideas for a volcanic national park on the Reykjanesskagi peninsula have been around for a long time, as the peninsula is where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge surfaces at the conjunction of two tectonic plates, and signs of tumultuous volcanic activity over the last few millennia abound.
The Austurengjar geothermal area lies 1.5 km east of Lake Grćnavatn in Krýsuvík. The area is fairly flat, broken only by low dolerite ridges, and reaches north to Lake Kleifarvatn.
Geothermal activity lies roughly along canyons on a north-south axis from the Austurengjahver hot spring in the south of the area to Lake Kleifarvatn, 3 km to the north. Geothermal activity in the area grew immensely following an earthquake in 1924, and ever since Austurengjahver has been the area‘s most spectacular hot spring – a boiling mudpot. To the north lie a number of smaller mudpots. Mudpots and steam fumaroles can be seen in the southernmost part of Lake Kleifarvatn when the surface level is at its lowest.
The area is largely unspoiled but suffers from some erosion. Dolerite and tuff formations from the last phase of the ice age are the dominant rock types.
The Austurengjar geothermal area is special in that it lies outside the Krýsuvík volcanic system, and there are no indications of volcanic activity in the Holocene (present epoch). The area‘s geothermal fissures are also connected to the transform tectonic plate boundary that cuts through South Iceland from the roots of Mt. Hekla, along the Reykjanes peninsula all the way to Reykjanes itself. An increasing number of tourists walk from Lake Grćnavatn to the Austurengjahver hot spring.
Photo © Sigmundur Einarsson
If plans for the 50 MW Austurengjar Power Plant are realized, a total of 10 to 15 boreholes would need to be drilled. This would affect the appearance of Lake Kleifarvatn, not least because of the power lines that would be needed. Today, Lake Kleifarvatn is a pristine Icelandic mountain lake surrounded almost entirely by mountains.