So far no wind farm has been constructed in Iceland. However, due to good wind conditions in the country and declining cost in wind power technology and generation, it is probably only a matter of time until we will see the first wind farm operating in Iceland.
Unfortunately, many of the best locations for wind farms in Iceland may be excluded from development, due to protection of the wilderness of the Icelandic highlands. The Icelandic National Planning Agency (NPA) recently gave its opinion on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the proposed 200 MW Búrfell Wind Farm (Búrfellslundur). This is an ambitious wind project, which the Icelandic National Power Company (Landsvirkjun) has been preparing for years, in the highlands of Southern Iceland.
The NPA concluded that the Búrfellslundur Wind Farm would have significant impact on the landscape and wilderness in the area, as well as on tourism and recreation. Furthermore, the NPA recommends that the power company should find another more suitable location, or scaling down the project. Both solutions would require a new environmental impact assessment.
This opinion of the NPA means that Landsvirkjun’s first real wind farm project will be delayed. The company has already constructed two wind mills in the Búrfell area by Þjórsá river (photo at left), as part of a research and development project on the feasibility of wind power in Iceland. According to a statement from Landsvirkjun’s manager of wind projects, in 2015, the plan was to have the 200 MW Búrfell Wind Farm in operation as early as autumn 2017. Now, this plan has to be revised.
The Búrfell Wind Farm, as proposed by Landsvirkjun, would consist of up to 67 turbines, each with a maximum height of 150 m (to the tip of the blade). Each turbine was expected to have a capacity of 3-3.5 MW. Total capacity would have been close to 200 MW, generating approx. 705 GWh annually.
The main reason why the NPA gave a negative opinion regarding the project, is the location of the proposed wind farm. In March 2016, the Icelandic Parliament (Allþingi) adopted a special National Planning Strategy (Landsskipulagsstefna 2015-2026), emphasizing the environmental importance of the vast wilderness areas normally referred to as the central highlands of Iceland. According to the NPA, a 200 MW wind farm in the Búrfell-area does not align with the National Planning Strategy, thus recommending the power company to find another location for its wind farm, or scaling the project down.
The area that was proposed for the wind farm by Landsvirkjun, spans up to 40 km2 of lava and sand plain. It is noteworthy that in the vicinity of this area, there are already two wind turbines (as mentioned above), in addition to several nearby large hydropower stations, with the relevant dams, reservoirs, transmission lines etc. However, the NPA is of the opinion that dozens of large wind turbines in the area will have such a strong visual effects it does not align with the recent National Planning Strategy.
Having to find another location for its first wind farm will be a disappointment for Landsvirkjun, as the area at Búrfell offers very high capacity factor for harnessing wind energy. According to information from Landsvirkjun, the Búrfell Wind Farm could be expected to deliver an average capacity factor of close to 50%, which is substantially higher than most wind farms in the world enjoy.
The negative opinion of the NPA towards the project is obviously not what Landsvirkjun was expecting. The power company has for several years put enormous work and effort in preparing the Búrfell Wind Farm, including foreign consulting to ensure high quality development of the environmental impact assessment. However, it was always clear that placing large wind turbines within the wilderness areas close to the volcanic Mt. Hekla, and adjacent to popular tourist routes, would be controversial.
The decision of the NPA regarding the Búrfell Wind Farm will delay wind power development by Landsvirkjun. On the positive side, Landsvirkjun and other power companies now have the possibility to take note of an opinion by the NPA on wind power projects, in finding locations that are suitable for such major constructions. As there are numerous locations in Iceland that offer very high capacity factor for wind turbines, there is good reason to be optimistic on prosperous development of wind energy in Iceland in the coming years and decades.