Funding is being sought to build a subsea power cable to take green energy from the Western Isles to England and southern Scotland.
A 362-mile cable linking Norway and the Netherlands, costing £431 million, is being built with £100 million coming from the European Investment Bank.
Now councillors in the Western Isles are urging the EIB to make a similar investment to help connect the islands to the network.
Angus Campbell, vice-convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), said he has been watching the progress of the NorNed project with interest: “This project is very similar to what we have been trying to get to link the Western Isles to the electricity markets down south.
“We have been told by the EU that the islands’ location shouldn’t mean that we do not get the grid connections that we need in order to take advantage of the renewable energy potential we have on land and offshore.
“In fact, EU policy deliberately sets out to enable peripheral areas to take advantage of this.
“We would welcome a similar investment from the EIB to enable a subsea power transmission cable to be built.”
The Western Isles is waiting for a decision from the Scottish Government on an application to build what would be Europe’s largest wind farm to date in the north of Lewis, which would generate more than 600 megawatts of electricity.
A number of smaller projects are also under consideration which would take the islands’ generating capacity to well over one gigawatt.
Alex Salmond, the First Minister, revealed recently he is to meet Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian prime minister, in the new year over plans to create a subsea “supergrid” to take green energy from Scotland to Europe. He said Scotland has six to seven times the power it needs and a subsea grid would help take it to energy-poor areas.
Western Isles Council is also in discussion with the Westminster government and with energy industry regulator Ofgem to change the charging system for companies which want access to the National Grid to transmit power. The system currently penalises generators in peripheral areas.
Mr Campbell added: “We need some strategic leadership from the Scottish Government. If we are going to take advantage of the area’s energy potential we need a connection.
“If they approve the large wind farm, then under EU law we have an entitlement to a grid connection. The danger is that as time goes on, the opportunity could pass us by.”
Calum MacIver, the council’s head of economic development, said the technology being used in the NorNed project showed the Western Isles’ vision of a long submarine cable link to the mainland is feasible.
Meanwhile, a drive is under way to secure business and industry backing for an Orkney-based research project aimed at boosting marine renewable energy generation in Scotland.
Created by Heriot-Watt University, MREDS (Marine Renewable Energy Development in Scotland) is designed to bring academics and industry together to overcome the challenges faced by developers of wave and tidal technologies.
By John Ross
28 November 2007
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