HS Orka has plans to build a power plant in the Trölladyngja geothermal area. Research in the area has already caused considerable damage to this delicate environment. As of yet, it remains unclear whether the area’s geothermal energy will be harnessed.
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.
Trölladyngja, Grćnadyngja and Fíflavallafjall are three tuff mountains that together form the northeasternmost end of the Núpshlíđarháls ridge. The ridge is almost entirely formed of tuff and is about 13 km in length. The ridge mostly lies along the fissure of the Krýsuvík volcanic system. At the end of the ridge, at Trölladyngja and Grćnadyngja, the volcanic system is displaced several kilometers eastward and follows the Undirhlíđar hills in the direction of Heiđmörk.
Quite a lot of steam rises from Eldborg and the surrounding lava fields and tuff formations. There is also some geothermal activity in the lava field south of Höskuldarvellir, across from Sog, and at Oddafell mountain just west thereof. There is also some geothermal activity at Sog, south of Grćnadyngja mountain, with mudpots and fumaroles.
The geothermal area is 3 km in length in total. It seem to be partially linked to the volcanic system‘s divergent fissures. It is most likely that geothermal activity in the area is at least partially caused by the change in direction in the volcanic system that occurs there.
There has been considerable volcanic activity in the area in the Holocene (present epoch), most recently around one or two thousand years ago.
South of Trölladyngja and Grćnadyngja, a small stream called Sogalćkur has formed a small gorge, depositing a considerable amount of colorful geothermal clay there, making it a remarkable sight. The gorge is known as Sog. The stream has also deposited some of these chemicals in the lava fields, forming the Höskuldarvellir fields.
HS Orka has permission to carry out research in the area and originally had plans to construct a geothermal power plant in the geothermal area around Trölladyngja mountain.
Three boreholes have been drilled in the area. The first was drilled by Orkustofnun in 1970, just north of Trölladyngja.
Since 2000, HS Orka has carried out two further drillings in the area. The boreholes are around 2300 m deep, one in the lava field just south of the Höskuldarvellir fields, and the other at the mouth of the Sog gorge.
Evidence from the boreholes indicates great geothermal energy but also shows that water flow only reaches a depth of 1600 m. It is not clear whether the area is still under consideration, but it seems that all research in the area has ceased.
Research has already caused great damage to the environment in the area.
The area around Trölladyngja mountain is mostly within the Reykjanesfólkvangur National Park and parts of the area make it onto the Nature Conservation Register published by the Environment Agency of Iceland.
Photo © Sigmundur Einarsson