The soaring price of metal could hamper ambitious renewable energy plans for the Western Isles and lose multi-millions of pounds to the islands‘ fragile economy.
Rising global demand means greatly increased costs of the copper needed to build a 50-mile long subsea cable under the Minch to link Western Isles wind farms into the new Beauly to Denny overhead transmission network.
Presently the Scottish and Southern Electricity which runs the national grid in Scotland through its subsidiary company SHETL, has an outstanding application with UK energy regulator Ofgem to build the massive interconnector.
The green light has still not been received so the race is on to secure permission and draw up designs before the world demand for copper puts the price of the cable beyond reach.
If it doesn’t go-ahead this year it risks being pushed back until about 2015 or even later when metal prices subsidise SSE’s business plan limits.
It was previously estimated that each year’s delay to just a number of community schemes would lose £2.5 million to the islands’ economy.
Adding in the delays to activating community benefit from the larger private schemes would easily double that figure.
Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell hopes that the financial commitment of an incoming developer to underwrite its share in the cable will beat the metal markets rise.
Energy giant International Power, owned by French utility firm GDF Suez, intends to start construction of a £230 million wind scheme at Eishken in South Lochs on Lewis.
It bought the development – and crucially, the sub-sea cable rights – from landowner Nick Oppenheim in March.
Mr Campbell said it was “very, very important” Ofgem approves the cable very soon “because of the timescale to allow us to take advantage of projects in the system already.
“Otherwise, they would have to wait another two or three years and the price gets a lot more expensive.”
An SSE spokesperson said: “”Detailed work is being undertaken to ensure that the final scheme design for the link meets the needs of the developers and, over the coming months, work will resume on placing the relevant contracts and undertaking environmental and other studies.”
SSE withdrew an earlier investment plan for the underwater interconnector but lodged a fresh financial plan last year.
Its spokesperson highlighted: “Developers of wind farms on the Western Isles are now conveying greater confidence about the deliverability of their projects, which means that the case for the Western Isles link has been renewed and submitted to Ofgem.”