In light of published research permits by the National Energy Authority and already planned organizational changes of individual municipalities there is considerable pressure to exploit the last wilderness area in the highlands of East Iceland, commonly referred to as the Hraun area. Unlike surrounding areas, such as Hálslón reservoir and Hraunaveita diversion, both relating to the enormous Kárahjúkar Power Plant, the Hraun area has not been exploited for power production. There are two power proposals in the Hraun area. One is a very large power plant - Hraun Power Plant (126 MW) - and the other involves many "small" power plants, all falling below 10 MW and therefore they would not need an environmental assessment.
Hraun Power Plant
- Hraun Power Plant
The part of the Hraun area that is under consideration is within three municipalities, i.e. Djúpavogshreppur, Fljótsdalshérađ and Fljótsdalshreppur. This is the last wilderness area in the highlands of East Iceland.
The geology of the area is not well studied and the area needs a comprehensive assessment of geology, vegetation and biodiversity in general.
There are two glaciers within the area, Ţrándarjökull and Hofsjökull, and it has very diverse bodies of water.
There are well-known paths in the Hraun area that were used in the olden days and you can see both relics and place names that support the remarkable history of the area, precisely where the proposed power plant is located.
The Hraun area's environment is unique and those who have visited the area repeatedly say that the experience is very strong and the connection with nature is nowhere greater. The silence in the Hraun area is said to be so great on good weather days that people experience themselves as being more alone in the world than anywhere else they have visited and it makes the unique wilderness and environment completely marvellous.
Photo © Hjördís Hilmarsdóttir
If the proposed Hraun Power Plant into Berufjörđur fjord, which currently falls in the awaiting further assessment category, were realized, then almost all the notable bodies of water in the Hraun area would be included in these projects.
The large Hraun Power Plant proposal into Berufjörđur fjord and/or Fljótsdalur valley would probably result in more natural damage than previously seen in any power plant construction in Iceland.
If construction of the power plant were to be realized, it would have an irreversible effect on nature, and a huge negative impact on all the waterfalls that now flow from the Hraun area down into many beautiful valleys in the neighbouring municipalities, i.e. Djúpavogshreppur, Fljótsdalshérađ and Fljótsdalshreppur.
The largest version of the Hraun Power Plant would be 126 MW. This would be the largest single power plant proposal in the East of Iceland since the Kárahnjúkar Power Plant was started.
However, the current situation is that instead of focusing on the large 126 MW Hraun Power Plant, applicants to the National Energy Authority for a research permit have divided the permits into several smaller ones and are now planning to construct many power plants that would fall under the "small" power plant category, all of which are 9.9 MW and below.
These "small" power plants include the proposed Geitdalur Power Plant, which has its source in the Leirudalsá river, which flows down into the Geitdalsá river and into the north valley in Skriđdalur. Another "small" power plant proposal in the area is Grímsá Power Plant, which would be 2.8 MW.
Geitdalur Power Plant is estimated to be 9.9 MW with at least two dams, with the larger one being up to 1 km long and on average 18 m high. The surrounding topography would allow for a significant expansion of the power plant in the future, which would entail using even more land and water from the Hraun area.
The municipality of Fljótsdalshérađ has agreed to formulate planning descriptions in consultation with the company Arctic Hydro where plans for Geitdalur Power Plant are outlined. Last summer (2019) research on the area's nature was conducted and an environmental assessment is expected in the coming weeks. Subsequently, a decision from Fljótsdalshérađ municipality is close and whether they would then agree to submit a proposal for a change to the General Plan for Geitdalur Power Plant or whether the plans would be rejected. If a proposed amendment were submitted, it would be the final confirmation of the town council's willingness to undertake construction work.
In addition to these plans regarding power plants in the Hraun area, the National Energy Authority has issued a research permit for the so-called Hamarsá Power Plant, which flows into Hamarsfjörđur fjord in Djúpavogshreppur municipality. The capacity there is in fact estimated to be very high, namely 30-75 MW, and it is difficult to understand how research licenses have been obtained for this single power plant proposal that is not mentioned in the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources and is, in addition, far above the environmental assessment criteria.
It is clear that the pursuit of these power plant proposals and others in the Hraun area is only the first step in many of the so-called "small" power plants in much larger plans to exploit the bodies of water in the Hraun area.
Photo © Skarphéđinn G. Ţórisson