Landsvirkjun is at the forefront of environmental issues and supports sustainable development within society. We continuously seek out new knowledge and methodologies for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments.
The Company has approached the issue systematically by outlining the Company's policy regarding design strategies for landscape and artificial structures, to strengthen landscape architecture and architecture in the development, planning and construction phases of power station projects. Enhancements are made by strengthening design objectives in work procedures.
Policy for Landscape and structure design
Landsvirkjun has established an environmental policy which defines important environmental aspects in its operations.
One of these aspects addresses the impact on visual amenities and the natural environment: visual impact and landscape. The policy on landscape and structure design was approved in 2016 and is also part of our CSR policy.
Our policy is to create harmony between man-made structures, landscaping and the natural environment.
Challenging tasks in a fascinating landscape
Power project sites are mostly located in the highlands, in areas with low growing vegetation, mosses and small forests.
The sites are often in close proximity to glaciers, young lava, sand deserts, mountains and rivers. The Icelandic landscape is typically sensitive and volatile and a challenging environment for the design of power projects.
The purpose of the policy on landscape and structure design is to outline Landsvirkjun's main parameters with regard to architectural (the appearance of structures) and landscape design in power plant areas.
Various factors are considered during the design process. Key factors such as sense of place, creativity, art and cooperation, design concept, cultural heritage, landscape assessments, sustainable design, multifunction and integration should all be considered, and design competitions should be encouraged where possible.
How should we design structures in an open, sensitive landscape? Should the goal be to prevent any visual impact by hiding these manmade structures or should evidence of renewable energy generation be visible?
Various projects have been underway this year to achieve these objectives including structure and building registration at the Sog and Laxá Stations.
The aim of structure and building registration is to evaluate the conservation value of built up areas and existing structures at the power station site. These measures were implemented to ensure that any future changes to these structures are carried out with extensive knowledge of the value of the environment to future generations and to ensure that all licence requirements are fulfilled.
We reviewed methodologies and aspects of environmental impact assessments pertaining to effects on the landscape and visual amenities. We also attempted to simplify and define mitigation measures to improve monitoring aspects and to set coordinated criteria for power projects.
We launched a revision project in connection with the process of environmental impact assessment and reviewed the working process for landscape and visual impact assessments. We compared current methods for assessing environmental impact in cooperation with various domestic and international experts and the National Planning Agency. We identified and assessed these methods for best practise, and subsequently presented guidelines on the methodology and criteria for Landsvirkjun’s landscape assessment processes with the aim of setting coordinated criteria for power projects.
A proposal was presented on unified methodology and improvements to landscape and visual impact assessment methods. The process for Landscape Character Areas is outlined in the proposal and definitions are put forward for the process such as; context, baseline, scoping, screening, terminology and criteria for effects and value, sensitivity and susceptibility, mitigations measures, monitoring and auditing. We are currently working on standard operational procedures on landscape and visual impact assessments for the administrative system.
Multi-purpose land use and sustainability opportunities
A university student conducted a research project last summer, at the request of Landsvirkjun, with the purpose of analysing opportunities for integration between recreational and renewable energy production areas (especially in the Sog area).
Opportunities for general outdoor recreational activities and tourism were investigated. The report reviewed current land characteristics, natural environment, society and culture. The local environment of the Sog area was mapped and evaluated and suggestions for a comprehensive map outlining current locations, proposed locations for recreational areas and transport areas were put forward. Options for the location of designated areas, including rest areas and pathways, were also presented.
Landscaping and structural design
How is a power project developed? The process for the development and construction of a power station is as follows:
Numerous design elements of power projects have a visual effect on the landscape.
These include power stations building and (generation) infrastructure, roads, outdoor areas, other mobility routes and outdoor areas, reservoirs and dams, temporary work camps, workspace and storage space, headrace and tailrace canals, drilling areas, platforms and water extraction areas, pipes, lines and cables, masts, material extraction and disposal areas, cut and fill areas.
Hvammur Hydropower Project: Review
The Hvammur Hydropower Project was moved from the ‘under consideration’ category in the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources to the ‘appropriate for development’ category in a parliamentary resolution put forward in 2015. Landsvirkjun had completed years of research and preparation work by this stage.
Project design was completed in 2003 and the tendering process began in 2007. The tendering process was halted between 2009 and 2014 but research was ongoing. A review of the power project’s design began in 2016, following a decision from the National Planning Agency, which stipulated that the impact of two environmental aspects would need review: Outdoor recreational activities & tourism and landscape & the effects on the landscape and visual aspects. The Environmental Impact Assessment from 2004 could otherwise remain unchanged.
The policy on landscape and structure design was used to review the project, to ensure the balance between structure appearance, landscaping and the natural environment. The National Planning Agency Evaluation completed its review of Landsvirkjun’s conclusions on necessary mitigation measures for the two environmental aspects in March 2018. The new assessment report includes the planned mitigation measures, designed to minimise the visual impact of the power station on the landscape and visual amenities.
A new definition for design
New proposals for design and landscaping, contextualised within a wider design framework and in line with Landsvirkjun's new policies, were requested when the project was redefined. Designers were also asked to describe how their approach would differ if they were given more freedom and the chance to start the process again. Limitations to design included technical infrastructure, engineering features underground and structure location.
Reducing visual impact from a distance
The new design concept for architecture and landscaping:
The main emphasis […] is to minimise visual effects from a distance and to deliver high-quality, unpretentious designs in harmony with the immediate landscape. The goal of the overall design of structures and landscaping is to inspire interest and to leave visitors with positive impressions of the area. The architecture, landscaping and material selection was considered holistically in the Hvammsvirkjun power station area, using a sustainable approach with consideration for the natural environment.