The Master Plan is a tool to assess which areas of Iceland could be utilised for energy generation and which areas should be protected against such use. The Master Plan covers the energy resources of the country. The Master Plan is developed in such a way as to ensure that utilisation is based on a long-term outlook and broad consensus on the value of protecting nature and culture as well as the consideration of efficiency and economic profitability. The Master Plan was launched in 1999. The first phase was completed in 2003 and the second phase in 2013. The Steering Committee for the third phase was appointed in March, 2013 for a four year period.
The National Energy Authority
The National Energy Authority is the regulatory authority for energy matters in Iceland where the process in developing the Master Plan begins. The request for an assessment of a proposed power project by the Steering Committee is sent to the National Energy Authority. The request must be accompanied by a description of the proposed power project, the proposed location, the main structures involved and other construction pertaining to the project. An estimate of the installed capacity and electricity generation capacity should also be included when possible as well as an estimate of the capital and operational costs.
The National Energy Authority assesses the documentation and decides if it is comprehensive enough to send to the Steering Committee for the Master Plan for assessment. The National Energy Authority can also make an independent decision to send a proposed power project to the Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee of the Master Plan
The Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources appoints six members to sit on the Steering Committee for a four year period. The Steering Committee act as consultant to the Minister and put forward proposals for the categorisation of proposed power projects. There are three categories: ‘appropriate for development’, ‘under consideration’ and ‘appropriate for protection (protected)’. Land areas are then demarcated according to these categories. This is known as a proposal for the protection and energy utilisation of land areas.
Appointment of experts and data collection
The Steering Committee appoints professional advisory groups within the appropriate fields. The professional advisory groups assess the project data from their own perspective and submit their analysis to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee also consults the Environment Agency, the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History and the Icelandic Tourist Board on whether the submitted data is sufficient and comprehensive for the power project to be considered.
The Steering Committee then assesses the conclusions of the professional groups and prepares a proposal for the categorisation of the proposed power projects and demarcation of the land areas.
The Steering Committee introduces a draft proposal of the categorisation of proposed power projects
The Steering Committee introduces a draft of the categorisation of proposed power projects and demarcation of the land areas and then consults the public, various institutions and stakeholders. The Steering Committee assesses these contributions and makes any alterations to the draft as they see fit.
The Steering Committee introduces its proposal of the categorisation of power projects
The Steering Committee‘s proposal for categorisation and the demarcation of land areas is made public. Everyone is given an opportunity to give their opinion within a timeframe of at least twelve weeks. The Steering Committee assesses these contributions and makes any alterations to the proposal as they see fit.
The Steering Committee puts forward a substantiated proposal for the categorisation of proposed power projects
The Steering Committee now has the data to put forward a substantiated proposal for the categorisation of proposed power projects and the demarcation of land areas in accordance with the categorisation. The proposal is then submitted to the Minister.
The Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources
The Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources assesses the proposal of the Steering Committee and prepares a parliamentary resolution on the Master Plan. The proposal is then introduced to the parliament, after consultation and in cooperation with the Minister of Industry and Commerce. If the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources decides to alter the Steering Committee’s proposal then these proposed changes are subject to a consultation process and public discussion before being introduced to the parliament.
The parliamentary debate is the last step in the Master Plan process. The parliament debates the Minister’s proposal and passes a parliamentary resolution on the Master Plan. The formal process is now complete.
The implementation of the Master Plan
The proposed power projects have now been placed in three categories by the parliamentary resolution: ‘appropriate for development’, ‘under consideration’ and ‘appropriate for protection’. The proposed power projects considered to be ‘appropriate for development’ can now move forward and further studies made for those in the ‘under consideration’ category. The government is also expected to begin preparation measures for the protection of those land areas that are to be protected against energy generation according to the ‘appropriate for protection’ category.
Appropriate for development
The proposed power projects considered ‘appropriate for development’ can move forward. The government can issue permits pertaining to energy research and electricity generation for those projects under the ‘appropriate for development’ category.
An environmental impact assessment must be completed for a proposed power project before the utilisation license application is submitted. The potential environmental impact of a project is extensively assessed and mitigation measures are defined. The license issuers, professional institutions, stakeholders and the public are all consulted during this process. The license issuers subsequently decide whether or not the project should go ahead.
The proposed power projects categorised as ‘under consideration’ require more data to decide if they should be categorised as ‘appropriate for development’ or as ‘protected’. The government does not have the power to issue a license in connection with utilisation for those proposed power projects in the category ‘under consideration’. However, a license can be issued for energy research if the research does not require an assessment (under the Environmental Impact Assessment Act no 106/2000).
Appropriate for protection
In ‘appropriate for protection’ there are firstly the proposed power projects categorised as ‘appropriate for protection’ and secondly land areas that are to be protected against energy utilisation. The government cannot issue utilisation or research licenses for these proposed power projects nor for projects that use the land areas that are to be protected.
The government initiates plans for the protection of land areas demarcated for protection once the parliamentary resolution has been passed. If the proposed power project does not make use of a land area that has been protected against energy utilisation then it can be re-submitted to the National Energy Authority for the reconsideration of the next phase of the Master Plan.
Review and development of proposed power projects
Each phase of the Master Plan process is expected to take four years. New power projects and the review of proposed power projects, already considered during the last phase, can be submitted to the National Energy Authority at the beginning of each phase.