From Iceland — Controversial Dam Project In Westfjords Set On Ice

Controversial Dam Project In Westfjords Set On Ice

Published May 19, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Hvalárvirkjun, a project involving building a series of dams in the Westfjords that has divided locals in the area for years, has been officially put on ice for the foreseeable future. However, the Minister for the Environment believes new opportunities could arise for the region.

VesturVerk, the company behind the project, intended to build a series of dams at natural reservoirs in the Highlands of the Westfjords that feed rivers that run through the shire of Árneshreppur. Upon completion, the company estimated, it would have had a rated capacity of 320 Gigawatt hours (Gwh) of power per year, far exceeding the power demands of the entire Westfjords, and would connect to the national power grid.

As reported, the project has been a controversial one in Árneshreppur—supporters maintained that it would provide much-needed stable power to the region, while detractors said it would ruin the unspoiled beauty of the area of construction.

However, the majority of landowners in Drangavík, where the bulk of the development had been slated, filed an appeal to the Ministry of the Environment last July to halt construction. Furthermore, VesturVerk determined last spring that the low level of demand in the electricity market could no longer justify completion of the project. At the beginning of this month, they closed their Ísafjörður offices and laid off their employees.

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister for the Environment, told RÚV that the halting of Hvalárvirkjun could spell new opportunities for the area.

“I think it behooves us to explore opportunities that are in this region in more areas than just power plants,” he said. “I have long advocated for that.”

Amongst the opportunities that arise, in his opinion, is how best to preserve the natural setting of the region, as well as what development projects could be explored that do not involve dams. He mentions as well that there has been a growing call to make the area a nature preserve.

“That’s something that’s still being explored at the Nature Agency and the ministry will examine,” he said. “That process is still ongoing, so it’s difficult to comment definitively on that right now. But I emphasise that there are several opportunities for that region that concern more than just electricity production. It’s something that the ruling parties should look into.”

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