The decades-long battle over sustainable energy from the Isles involving public authorities, landowners, multi-national companies, environmental campaigners and numerous community groups has left Lewis and Harris without any sustainable energy supply at all – and without any back-up for the electricity supply it now has.
Instead of a massive interconnector link to the mainland, able to export huge quantities of renewable power to aid mainland cities – and earn vital revenue – the Isles’ wind turbines are silent, and the lights are only kept on by the constant whirr of diesel-powered generators.
Far from the being the shining light of renewable energy for Scotland and the UK, Lewis and Harris are utterly dependent on power for a polluting source.
With the subsea cable between Harris and Skye shattered, the Scottish Government has agreed to consider energy batteries for such beleaguered islands. These have been pioneered in Australia, for example.
In a galvanising speech in Holyrood in Wednesday 29 October, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant urged Scottish Government to place communities at the heart of its Renewable Energy plans and urgently improve energy networks to capitalise on Scotland’s natural resources.
Mrs Grant blasted the SNP Government for failing to secure jobs for Scotland’s renewable energy sector and failing to encourage energy transmission from the islands.
She said: “We are home to some of the best renewable energy in the world, yet where are the jobs? BiFab workers in Fife and on Lewis are seeing their futures disappear, while multinational companies line their pockets from our natural resources."
Mrs Grant said that communities should be supported in generation and transmission of energy from areas rich in natural resources, but that instead the lack of investment and support had led to a failing infrastructure.
Raising the recent failure of the power cable between Skye and Harris, Mrs Grant said: “Because that connection is down, the renewable energy that is generated on the island cannot be distributed. That means that clean energy is going to waste while fossil fuels are being used to generate electricity. That has a knock-on impact for many of the small-scale community generators that feed into the system, because they no longer have a market for their clean energy.”
Mrs Grant continued: “For many years, I have been pushing for an interconnector to those islands, which would have distributed energy, had it been built. The campaign will go on, while a new cable is laid to replace the damaged cable. That just shows just how disorganised our system is. Surely the replacement cable should provide additional capacity, and surely there should have been a better back-up than a diesel-powered station from the last century—yet that is what serves us.”
In response to her speech, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse said that the Scottish Government would investigate the potential for batteries to be installed to allow some of the renewable capacity being generated within island communities to be used as an alternative to the fossil fuel power station.
And Mr Wheelhouse has also received a heartfelt plea from Stornoway Community Ccouncil
They told him: “We write to you to express our deep concern at the sorry situation Stornoway and the wider island of Lewis and Harris now finds itself in. Despite being one of the windiest places on the planet, we are currently dependent on ancient diesel generators for our power, since the power cable between Skye and our island failed on October 16th.
Apart from all the risks of us now being dependent on our ‘back up’ energy supply, it is deeply ironic and somewhat disturbing that the Isle of Lewis, despite its incredibly rich wind resource, is pouring streams of filthy fuel into the atmosphere.
Then there is also the matter of all the community wind farms that have been set up on the island. They face the sudden loss of all their income for many months, potentially a year, due to the nature of insurance and liability on matters such as this. That will have a catastrophic impact locally due to the amount of money they generate .
“We feel strongly that the current (broken) cable needs to be restored as a matter of urgency, both for the security of the islands’ power supply and for the sake of the environment. We also feel strongly that this cable should be a community cable, upgraded to the largest power capacity that its current route and infrastructure can support. Our information is that this could allow an increase of 100mw and it would be a prudent and sensible act of future-proofing to put in a bigger cable instead of a similar-sized cable since the work has to be done anyway.
The cable that broke was 30 years old. If we don’t get this right now, then it could be another 30 years before we get another chance to revisit this. Not only would that be a missed opportunity; in terms of the climate crisis, it would be too late. “
Even when a replacement Skye to Lewis cable is installed, there is still a slim possibility that this cable may get subsequently damaged. That would see us defaulting to the same scenario as currently, where we have to rely on our current outdated diesel power generation system. To plan for such an event, we would suggest that SSE/OFGEM and the Scottish government look into a ‘power management system’ for the Island, whereby our existing installed wind turbines, in combination with battery storage solutions, can provide the requisite power requirements, so that the need for the existing outdated diesel power generation system will be limited.”