Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is welcoming the continued commitment from Ofgem to taking forward a needs case for a 600mw transmission link to export electricity from renewable developments in the Western Isles.

Although Ofgem have stated that they are unable to approve the 600mw link at this stage, the route to securing such a link has been left open, with encouragement of revised proposals for transmission links to Scottish islands.. It is the perceived risk of consumers paying for an underutilised link that has prevented Ofgem giving the go-ahead for the 600mw cable.

The proposal from SSEN for a 600MW transmission link was based on the two largest planned projects, Stornoway and Uisenis Wind Farms, securing subsidies in the recent auction (Contracts for Difference). 

Only the Uisenis project was successful.  However, if the Stornoway Wind Farm was shown to be commercially viable, giving more certainty to consumers that the project would proceed, then the 600mw link could go ahead.

Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay said: “Whilst developments have not taken place as we would have wished, there is still a way ahead for the 600mw cable which we believe is the best option for the renewables industry in the Western Isles.

“We will continue to engage with developers, SSEN, Ofgem and the UK and Scottish Governments to bring that about.”  

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has also welcomed an announcement from Ofgem today (Wed 23rdOctober) encouraging revised proposals for transmission links to Scottish islands.

Mr Cameron, who wrote to the energy regulator earlier in the year about the interconnector for the Western Isles, said: “This clearly shows that, as I argued in August, a 600MW interconnector for the Western Isles is still to play for.

“I look forward to continuing my work with local groups to ensure Ofgem fully understands how important this is for the future of our communities.

“The door is open and it is imperative that we get behind a renewed proposal that secures approval for a 600MW transmission link.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP has expressed his disappointment at today’s publication by Ofgem which is delaying progress for the Interconnector.

The Contracts for Difference (CfD) Allocation Round 3 in September awarded just 240MWh

to projects in the Western Isles, well below the 369-400MWh needed for the Interconnector to the mainland.

Earlier this week at Westminster, Mr MacNeil pressed the Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP about an interconnector and said it was a “ludicrous policy” of the UK Government which on one hand gives 240MWh to the Western Isles in CfD Round 3 while also requiring 370-400MWh before the interconnector could be built.

Angus MacNeil MP said: “It is disappointing that Ofgem is delaying progress with the interconnector. However, after speaking to SSEN this morning I am encouraged that the door is still open to make progress with the 600MW capacity cable.  SSEN remain hopeful that renewable projects will proceed, providing the 420MWh which will take them up to the 600MW cable capacity.  

 “SSEN is optimistic that progress can be made and is committed to driving this project on to secure a 600MW capacity cable for the Western Isles.

 “Our islands have the best wind resource in Europe and the interconnector is vital for island renewable energy projects, SSEN and renewable developers have the opportunity to provide Ofgem with further information to support the needs case for the interconnector.”

The four townships near Stornoway which are campaigning for the right to develop renewables on their common grazings land have alsoresponded to the Ofgem announcement on the Western Isles Interconnector. 

In a joint statement, Melbost Branahuie, Sandwick North, Sandwick East and Aignish said: “This decision was inevitable given the failure by Lewis Wind Power to win a CfD in the recent subsidy auction. Lewis Wind Power failed to clear the minimum hurdle that Ofgem required for the interconnector to be approved. 

“However, the good news is that Ofgem have said that they will consider alternatives if they are put forward. We therefore earnestly appeal to the Scottish Government and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to consider supporting a new Plan B that has the development of community-owned renewables at its centre. This Plan B should include an upgrade of the cable from Skye and have it reserved for community turbines only.

“It should also include faster progress towards replacing the import of carbon fuels on the islands with renewable energy that can be produced locally from community owned renewables, such as the Council's own excellent proposals to replace the LNG gas used in the town with hydrogen gas made locally.

“Lewis Wind Power have had a fair crack of the whip, but they have lost and they are now in danger of placing the islands in an endless purgatory of frozen opportunity.

“We can't have a situation where multinationals are effectively bed-blocking sites that could be used for a new Plan B that would be far more beneficial to the local economy if the community is placed front and centre, where it ought to be.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant later expressed her dismay at Ofgem’s decision to refuse the proposed 600MW transmission links for the Western Isles and Shetland

“I am disappointed that Ofgem have decided to refuse the 600MW transmission links to Shetland and the Western Isles, though not surprised.

“Ofgem’s assessment of potential power generation disproportionately favours large developments which can afford to seek planning permission with no guarantees, but this does not reflect the potential of renewables power in Scotland’s Islands.

“In the Western Isles 60% of land is now under community ownership, with 72% of the population living on land owned and operated by community trusts and landowners. This is only going to increase. I did a piece of work earlier this year, in order to feed into Ofgem’s consultation, which identified that community trusts and landowners had plans for 519.3 MW of energy generation. Unfortunately they cannot seek planning or funding permission for this until a transmission link is approved.”

Ms Grant previously submitted her views and her evidence to Ofgem as part of its consultation on the Transmission links in May 2019.  “Despite submitting this evidence, and I know Community Energy Scotland submitted a similar response, it would appear that Ofgem has ignored it and remains blinkered to big industrial developments. Given the current climate crisis this seems narrow minded at best. I have now written to Ofgem asking them how they plan to support renewable energy generation in Scotland’s rural and island communities.

Ms Grant added: “Scottish rural communities are clamouring for the ability to provide us with their renewable resources and to achieve economic benefit from their land ownership; the UK is desperate for sustainable energy. I would think that the equation here is simple, but disappointingly Ofgem appears not to have taken this into account in their current assessment.”