The Sandfell area is an almost untouched area of volcanic activity complete with lava fields and tuff formations. The construction of a power plant in the area, along with the roads, power lines, drillings and steam pipes that entails, would permanently transform the area. HS Orka plans to build a 50 MW power plant 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.
About 1 km west of the southern end of the Núpshlíđarháls ridge, there is a small area where steam rises from the lava fields north of Sandfell mountain and south of Hraunsels-Vatnsfell mountain.
The lava fields end west of the Núpshlíđarháls ridge and are replaced by low hills of tuff and pillow lava. The area is fairly barren of vegetation and suffers from soil erosion.
In all, the area is a nearly unspoiled volcanic area with lava fields and tuff formations. Geothermal activity is concentrated along the western edge of the Krýsuvík volcanic system, and is possibly connected to fissures running along a north-south axis found in old lava fields lying to the immediate north of the geothermal area, at the western foot of Hraunsels-Vatnsfell mountain.
Motor vehicles have caused some damage to moss in the lava fields.
HS Orka has obtained permission to conduct research in the Sandfell area and plans to construct a 50 MW power plant there. Such a power plant, with the accompanying road construction, power lines, boreholes and steam pipes would have considerable impact on the area.
A single experimental borehole has already been drilled in the area, but so far no research data is available.
Photo © Sigmundur Einarsson