The replacement subsea power cable to reconnect Lewis and Harris to the National Grid is on its way from China, Point and Sandwick Trust has learned.
But funding provided by community energy generators will remain cut off for far longer because it's no longer possible to get insurance cover against cable outages.
Manufacturing of the cable was completed earlier this month and the cable is currently on a cargo boat heading for the Suez Canal and then onward to Weymouth, where it is expected to arrive in early June. For those interested, the cargo boat is called Tian Qi and can be tracked on marine traffic apps.
Point and Sandwick Trust, the biggest community-owned wind farm in the UK, fond its power generation and income came to an abrupt stop in October last year when the cable broke, leaving them unable to export any of their electricity to market. The situation also left Lewis and Harris dependant on electricity for the diesel-powered generators at Battery Point and Arnish in Stornoway.
But Calum Macdonald, PST development manager, has confirmed the cable, which will once again link Harris to the mainland via Skye, is currently en route to the UK and “on track” to be positioned and energised “by August”.
At present the Tian Qi is heading from Shanghai to the Suez Canal where is expected to arrive on June 10.
Once the cable has arrived, “a spell of about four to five calm days” is required to lay it, which will hopefully happen sometime in July, and then the cable needs to be brought into operation.
“If they get a spell of good weather they will seize the moment and it should be all ready and energised in August. If they miss that opportunity, if the weather window doesn’t open up, then it gets more difficult as you move into the autumn and winter months.”
The cable break meant all island community wind farm had to immediately suspend all charitable donations and funding streams and maintain only core functions.
It is estimated that charitable donations will resume in early 2023, after the community wind farm has built up prudent financial reserves, to carry it through any future crises.
Calum said: “Of course, the restoration of the cable means that we can start earning income again but we’ll have to build up a reserve before we are able to start distributing that income.
“One of the headaches we face, looking forward, is that the insurance cover that we had for cable outages is being withdrawn by all the insurance companies, so that means that we have to build up a good reserve to tide us through a future outage.”
The timescale of donations resuming might be “more towards the end of next year” but Calum stressed: “That is all dependant on having a good output and good prices for our output”. Electricity purchase prices are “fine” just now but they can vary.
The cable to be installed is, Calum confirmed, the same size as the one that broke despite community groups including Point and Sandwick Trust having called on SSE to installed one with much greater capacity to allow the expansion of renewables development on the island. However, the groups are continuing to call collectively for a second cable and pressing to meet with representatives from Scottish Government about the matter.
Calum said: “The cable is the same size cable as before, although because it is newer it will probably be able to carry a lot more energy. It will probably go up to near 28MW, maybe 30MW, compared to 22MW.”
He admitted the community groups were “obviously disappointed” by the refusal to consider a bigger cable, adding: “All the community energy groups were pushing for a much bigger cable – but that decision has been taken. We are now pushing very hard to get a second cable to be installed which would be the same size but would allow the total capacity to go up to 60MW.
“We’re written to Scottish Government and we had a response, which was non-committal, so we are now pushing for a meeting with Scottish Government officials and so far they haven’t agreed. They agreed to meet with Community Energy Scotland representatives but they declined to meet with the community energy groups. But we’ll keep pressing and I’m sure we will eventually get the meeting we seek.”