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Iceland Mag

Nature

Plans to destroy unique waterfalls in an abandoned fjord meets stiff resistance

By Staff

  • Sacrificed to produce "green" energy? One of the waterfalls which would disappear if a controversial power-plant is built in the Strandir region. Photo/Tómas Guðbjartsson, Facebook.

An argument over plans to build a hydro-electric power plant in Ófeigsfjörður fjord, an abandoned fjord in the Strandir region on the north coast of the Westfjords peninsula has re-opened one of the most important fault lines in Icelandic politics, the struggle over the value of wilderness.

A conservative MP and supporters of power utilities and industrial development have condemned conservationists as "hypocrites" who "live in the comfort and security of the capital", and demands that questions about the use of natural resources and untouched wilderness be left to "locals". 

The value of Icelandic nature
The struggle between conservationists, who wish to protect untouched wildernesses and those who want to harness Iceland's waterfalls and geothermal energy to produce renewable power for industry, can be traced back to the early 20th century when Iceland industrialized. Iceland has enormous untapped sources of renewable hydropower or geothermal energy. However, harnessing this green energy comes at the cost of destroying untouched wildernesses. Hydro power requires the building of dams and sinking of canyons which destroys waterfalls and dramatic landscapes.

Read more: See the spectacular waterfalls in Skjálfandi river which would to be sacrificed for more electricity

A recent battle for the preservation of some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, a series of waterfalls in Skjálfandi river in N. Iceland, ended with the victory of conservationists.

Read more: Important victory for conservationism: Waterfalls in Skjálfandifljót river to be protected

In many cases the fault lines have been cast as lying between people who live near a proposed power plant and city-dwelling do-gooders who fail to understand the needs of the local economy. While the reality of these questions is usually more complex this caricature has frequently allowed supporters of new power-plants to deligitimize criticism.

Tourism increases the value of wilderness
the growing tourism industry has provided conservationists with a new powerful ally in the battle with industry and power utilities, the need for more energy and the lack of options which do not have negative environmental impacts has ensured the debate will not be settled conclusively in the foreseeable future.

The most recent front in this struggle is a plan to build a small power plant in Ófeigsfjörður fjord, an abandoned fjord on the north coast of the Westfjords peninsula. The fjord is only accessible by foot or on specially equipped mountain trucks, as the road which leads to the fjord is little more than a gravel path.

The power utility which plans to build the power plant argues it would improve energy security in the Westfjords, and promises it will strengthen the economy of the Strandir region. Conservationists reject these claims, arguing the costs of the project far outweigh the promised benefits.

Who do uninhabited fjords belong to?
On Saturday a doctor at the National University Hospital posted a photograph on Facebook, urging people to rise up in defense of the wilderness of the Strandir region. The photograph, which shows one of the many waterfalls in Hvalá river which would disappear if the power plant is constructed, has been shared by more than a thousand people, generating a lively discussion about the value of untouched wilderness:

"Do we want to sacrifice a pearl like this to generate megawatts of electricity for industry? That would be madness. In addition to this one waterfall there are dozens more in the hills of Ófeigsfjörður fjord, all surrounded by untouched wilderness which has no counterparts and endless dramatic canyons and beautiful heaths."

An MP for the conservative Independence party who lives in Ísafjörður town in the Westfjords, rejected the criticism, saying on Facebook she was "fed up" with conservationists who wanted to dictate how wilderness areas in the region were used. The proposed power plant would be a boon to the economy of the region, bringing with it improved roads and economic growth:

"Leave this matter to us, who live here in the region and have strong bonds to the area, and those who spend time in the region on a regular basis."

Tómas' Facebook post:

 

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