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The construction of the wind farm will create employment opportunities for local contractors and service providers as facilities are constructed and preparation work is completed. Both residents and tourist operators are generally positive towards wind energy and believe that this type of energy generation fulfils present day environmental requirements for sustainable energy production. However, they do have concerns about the visual impact of the wind turbines.

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Municipalities

The three proposals are located within the Rangárþing ytra Municipality and the Skeiða & Gnúpverjahreppur Municipality and on the boundary of the Ásahreppur Municipality. The Rangárþing ytra Municipality is the highest populated municipality within the area with over 1,500 residents. Agriculture is one of the largest sources of employment in the area in addition to industrial fields and public administration. Employment in trade and services has increased within the municipality in the last few years, and the tourism industry has flourished.

The Skeiða & Gnúpverjahreppur Municipality, which has over 500 residents, relies on agriculture as its primary source of income. Two of Landsvirkjun’s hydropower stations (Búrfell and Sultartangi) are located within the municipality.

The Ásahreppur Municipality is the smallest of the three with only 200 residents. The municipality mostly relies on agriculture for income, but four of Landsvirkjun’s hydropower stations (Búðarháls, Hrauneyjafoss, Sigalda and Vatnsfell) are located within the area as well.

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Residents

Opinion surveys conducted to assess local residents’ opinions show that the residents in all three municipalities are familiar with the area where the proposed wind farm will be constructed. The residents generally described the area as natural, beautiful, peaceful and clean. Approximately 10% of the respondents described the area as ‘manmade’. Most of the respondents described the area as an expansive, mainly barren, upland area characterised by poor vegetation, sand and lava.

More than half of the respondents indicated that the proposed wind farm would not affect their travel habits. Approximately 20% of the respondents claimed they would be more attracted to the area, and a similar number claimed they would be less likely to visit the area.

Over half of the respondents indicated that employment opportunities within the municipalities are strong, but 15% indicated their employment opportunities are poor. The majority of respondents (64%) believed that energy generation would be a positive force on employment opportunities within rural areas; however, 11% considered this to be a negative option.

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Tourism industry

The most popular tourist spots by the proposed Búrfell Wind Farm include the Þjórsárdalur Valley, Rangárbotnar, Hekla Volcano and Dómadalsleið. Áfangagil and Hólaskjól are also popular tourist spots that are attractive to equestrians and ramblers.

Tourist operators have a particular interest in the effects of the wind farm on the areas to the north and east of Búrfell for the following reasons:

  • The area is located at the edge of the highland area and is an entrance to the highlands.
  • The roots of the Hekla Volcano, which is a popular tourist attraction, has great value to tourist operators.
  • Tourist operators believe that the wilderness and desert qualities of the physical landscape in the area are unique characteristics of Iceland and are a valuable source in their field.

Local tourist operators’ future expectations for the functionality of the area differ. Some operators see the potential for tourist activity within the area to the east and north of Búrfell, whereas others merely see it as a connective route between other areas.

All respondents were familiar with the proposed construction work at the Búrfell Wind Farm. The respondents were generally positive towards the research wind turbines, but most of the respondents had negative opinions of the development of the Búrfell Wind Farm. Some respondents had not yet formed an opinion on the matter. Most of the respondents believed that the Búrfell Wind Farm would not have a significant impact on travel routes used by tourism companies within the area today. However, they believed that the number of wind turbines would affect tourists’ experience of the area.

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Tourists

Tourists expressed various opinions on development and construction of facilities in the area that were both general and specific to individual tourist spots. Satisfying the suggestions of all respondents would be impossible. However, research shows that tourists visiting highland areas are mostly attracted to them because of their ‘untouched wilderness’ appeal as well as the beauty, landscape, views and diversity of the area.

There is also a variety of guest accommodation close to the proposed Búrfell Wind Farm in Hrauneyjar, Hólaskógur, to the west of the Þjórsá River and Áfangagil at the root of Valafell. Tourists often seem to stop at the crossroads of the Dómadals and Landvegur Roads. The Hekla Volcano is a popular spot for photographers and a number of information boards can be found in the area.

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Impact on the local community, tourist services and recreation

Municipalities

Employment opportunities will increase for local contractors and service providers during the construction period. This development would follow the policy direction outlined in the general plans for the municipalities and would have a positive impact on their profitability.

Six full-time positions will also be made available in maintenance and monitoring operations. If proposals 1 or 3 are chosen, then revenue from public fees will be awarded to the Rangárþing ytra Municipality, and the revenue will be awarded to the Skeiða & Gnúpverjahreppur Municipality if proposal 2 is chosen. This will strengthen the infrastructure of the municipalities and have a fairly positive impact.

Residents and the tourism industry

The physical landscape to the northeast of Búrfell has changed alongside the development of hydropower stations within the area. The landscape consists of many manmade structures, and the Búrfell Wind Farm would simply come into existence with these existing features.

The local and tourist experiences of the wilderness differ tremendously. Tourists are more likely to be affected by their first impression of the area while local residents base their perceptions on their general interaction with the landscape. The results of the survey show that the public had mixed feelings towards the wind farm. The visual impact was the primary issue for local residents, but the potential noise impact was also a prevalent concern.

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The majority of respondents did not think that the wind farm would have a significant effect on travel within the area, with the exception of equestrians (horse enthusiasts) who have used the area for riding. Over half of the respondents (56%) believed that the development of the wind farm would not have an effect on their travel habits within the area. Approximately 20% were more likely to visit the area after the wind turbines have been constructed and a similar number were less likely to visit the area.

The majority of tourist operators do not believe that the Búrfell Wind Farm will have a significant effect on the travel routes of tourism companies currently operating within the area. Previous construction work on power stations in the highland areas did not significantly affect tourist operators.

Researchers believe that the successful development of tourism alongside electrical generation is crucial. This cooperation ensures that the main government objectives recently established with regard to tourism are fulfilled. This includes Icelandic nature, culture and professionalism being at the forefront of the development of tourism and ensuring that Icelandic tourist services become highly competitive with successful members of the field.

Over 5,000 guests have visited the current research wind turbines, operated by Landsvirkjun, in the last three years.

Landsvirkjun supports these ideas and believes that tourism can be developed alongside the Búrfell Wind Farm. A promising indicator of this cooperation is the 10% of foreign tourists who are already visiting power station visitor centres.

The aforementioned research highlights that systematic development of recreational and tourism services in conjunction with construction of wind farms can increase the appeal of the power generation area.

Two recent examples depict how municipalities created tourism and recreational opportunities alongside the development of wind farms. The areas surrounding the wind farms remained open with cycling paths, footpaths, bicycle rentals, and accommodation located throughout the area. Visitor centres were constructed to improve access for anglers in the area. Power stations could therefore lay the foundation for new opportunities in Icelandic tourism, creating new jobs that would distribute tourists to wider areas across the country.

The same can be said of the development of the tourism industry alongside the development of wind farms in California (see Appendix 7). The Whitelee Wind Farm which is close to Glasgow in Scotland and the largest wind farm in the UK is another example. The wind farm has 215 wind turbines with an installed capacity of 539 MW. There are over 130 km of footpaths, cycling paths and riding paths within the area as well as a visitor centre with an exhibition, educational area and restaurant. According to the operators, the visitor centre has received 450,000 visitors since 2009. This goes to show that a wind farm project of this type can become a tourist attraction. Landsvirkjun therefore believes that the Búrfell Wind Farm could be developed alongside the flourishing tourism industry in the area.

The effects on residents and the tourism industry are considered to be somewhat negative according to assessments produced by these respective parties. The results of an opinion survey carried out as a part of the EIA process showed that local residents had mixed feelings toward the Búrfell Wind Farm. The visual impact of the wind turbines generated the greatest concerns but potential noise pollution was also deemed a problem. However, the environmental assessment of the site reveals that the noise impacts of the wind farm are considered to be insignificant. The details and layout of the wind farm have changed since the opinion surveys were conducted. The maximum number of wind turbines has decreased from 80 to 67, the location of the wind farm has changed and the maximum height for wind turbines is higher than previously noted. The wind farm was relocated after considering the concerns of negative visual impacts on travel routes in the area.

Tourists

Respondents were categorised into three groups: Nature lovers (16%), service minded individuals (28%) and general tourists (56%).

Nature lovers are conscious of disturbances to the environment. They are interested in preserving the original characteristics of the territory and do not favour the development of organized campsites or other physical structures in the area. They are not keen to large-scale tourism in the area.

Service minded individuals are not deterred by the development of physical structures in the area. These individuals are generally in favour of informational signs along pathways and at points of interest. The presence of other tourists does not affect their experience.

General tourists and their opinions typically fall somewhere between those of nature lovers and service minded individuals. Their opinions are largely mixed on the discussed ideas.

When asked about having fewer but larger turbines in the area versus more turbines of smaller size, tourists usually favoured the idea of having the larger turbines. This opinion did however change with regard to proximity to the wind farm. They favoured smaller turbines when presented photos that showed a smaller number of turbines from a closer distance to the wind farm.

The proposed wind turbines at the Búrfell Wind Farm will be noticeable to tourists travelling throughout the area where the turbines are visible simply due to the substantial size of the structures. The opinion surveys revealed that most tourists travel to the proposed site to enjoy the wilderness, which will be visually impacted by the construction of the wind farm. However, it should be noted that there are already six hydropower stations operating within the area of the proposed Búrfell Wind Farm. The area has already been disturbed by energy development and, according to the law of nature conservation, can no longer be defined as an ‘uninhabited wilderness.’ The proposed Búrfell Wind Farm location is not a tourist destination; rather, it is a stopping point on the way to the highlands where true wilderness can be experienced.

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The results of the opinion survey show that the construction of wind turbines will have no effect on a majority of respondents traveling within the area (60%). Tourists traveling in the area will experience a limited impact, as 84% of those individuals are classified as service minded individuals and general tourists. Only 16% of tourists fall into the nature lover category, creating a clear minority. However, the results of the surveys indicate that the Búrfell Wind Farm will affect some tourists’ experiences in the area. Those expected to be impacted the most include tourist groups, ramblers and equestrians, those visiting the area for a wilderness experience and nature lovers.

The opinion survey showed that 84% of the individuals travelling in the area were either connected to tourist services or independent tourists. The proposed plans for the project will, according to the survey, not have an impact on the travel habits of 60% of tourists travelling in the area, and 7% would actually become more attracted to the area as a result of the proposed development. Approximately 66% believed that the area would be less attractive. In light of these results, the impact on tourism within the area is considered to be somewhat negative, as only a relatively small number of tourists would not travel to the area if the project were to go ahead.

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Mitigation measures

Landsvirkjun will cooperate with the municipalities within the wind farm area and members of the tourism industry to utilise the development of the Búrfell Wind Farm in a way that creates new opportunities in tourism.

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Búrfellslundur Wind Farm EIA report

The Búrfellslundur Wind Farm EIA report can be accessed here.
Further discussion on local community is in chapter 7.7

EIA report

186 MB PDF

Tourist operators and residents

25,5 MB PDF

Tourists

9,2 MB PDF