Plans to make the Western Isles the European capital of onshore wind energy are in tatters after serious delays in a proposed sub-sea cable to export the electricity to mainland markets.
In a shock announcement which means a feared economic crisis for the islands, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) confirmed it is halting its current plans for a giant energy interconnector cable to run 60 miles under the Minch between Lewis and the mainland where it would link into the Beauly to Denney overhead transmission network.
Though it plans to reapply for permission next year, the lost opportunity of the crucial link at this late stage has serious implications for a number of giant windfarms and numerous community enterprises in the Hebrides.
The underwater cable is required to carry renewable energy from the giant Pairc and Eishken windfarms and the proposed Stornoway windfarm.
Plans to build and expand a raft of community turbines around Lewis and Harris depends upon the cable going ahead soon. All were promised temporary connections to the grid on the basis of the cable going live in 2013 but their position is currently unclear.
Each year’s delay to the community scheme would lose £2.5 million to the islands’ economy.
In total, the community turbines were estimated to create 100 jobs and boost the islands’ economy by £60million over 25 years. The profits would be reinvested in environmental, social and cultural schemes.
The crofting community buyout of the 20,000 acre Pairc estate on Lewis also hinges on the cable as hefty profits from SSE’s own proposed £200million giant windfarm in the district was to pay for the land.
Construction of a 118 MW development at Eishken was due to start next year but will now be put on hold.
It promised to pay £1million yearly in community benefit and create vital new jobs in the ailing community of South Lochs. An associated £30 million expansion recently applied for panning permission.
SSE said it is axing its current cable proposal made to energy regulator Ofgem because the energy companies which would use the link are unwilling to underwrite a share of its huge cost.
It proposes to reapply next year but – even if that was successful – it would delay the operation of any cable until the middle of the decade.
In a report to investors, SSE said its national grid operator subsidiary SHETL has “concluded that the lack of financial underwriting from electricity generators (attributed to the level of transmission charges) relating to the link from the Western Isles to the mainland meant it would not be able to conclude a contract for the supply of the necessary electricity cable.
“As a result, it withdrew its request to Ofgem for authorisation to make the investment.
“It will, however, prepare a new request for authorisation to invest in the link as soon as these issues are resolved. In practice, this is likely to take at least one year.”
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