Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has pledged to redouble his efforts to ensure the islands renewable energy potential is realised and establish the Western Isles as a global centre for marine and land-based projects.
Mr Ewing gave a personal reassurance to island communities in light of last week’s revelation that the Western Isles interconnector would be delayed.
The latest price tag for the project is estimated at £700 million - an increase of more than £200 million - with 2016 pencilled in as the date of completion.
In an address to the communities of the Western Isles through the Stornoway Gazette, Mr Ewing described the delay as “bitterly disappointing” and again highlighted the need for fair transmission charges.
He said: “I want to personally reassure the people of the Western Isles that I will redouble my efforts in this area and ensure that the Scottish Government continues to work with industry and Ofgem to guarantee the Islands are properly connected to the mainland grid and finally see a fair regime of transmission charges.”
He added: “This is simple common sense – the Western Isles have some of the best renewable energy resources, not only in Scotland but in Europe if not the world, but the current punitive system of transmission charges prevent the people of the islands from benefiting from this.”
The system in place to determine transmission charge differentials, which applies across the whole of the UK, is designed to recover the costs of transmission assets (for example the proposed Western Isles Link).
At the moment it is believed that users of the network should be responsible for the costs of infrastructure assets.
But there has been wide spread concern regarding the negative impact these additional charges will have projects on the islands. Cross party consequence and the support of the Scottish Parliament on the issue was secured in April of this year and at the start of October the Intergovernmental and Islands Transmission Charging Group was established.
Mr Ewing said: “The outcome of Transmit, announced by Ofgem in May, produced positive outcomes for mainland generators in Scotland. However, it did not deliver for the islands and Ofgem directed an industry panel to look further at the costs for islands.
“It will not surprise you that the Scottish Government has fully engaged with this panel, using a ‘Team Scotland’ approach, and working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Islands Councils and Scottish Renewables, as well as technical and scientific expertise from within Scotland.”
He continued: “Securing Westminster’s support was a victory, but it will not alone deliver the result the Islands need, and this is no time to rest on our laurels, as last week’s announcement made only too clear.”
Mr Ewing said he will continue to contribute to the Project Transmit working group, which is likely to announce its first results this winter, as well as the Westminster transmission charging group ‘examining the wider economic arguments regarding the Islands and if necessary seek solutions which lie outside the remit of transmission charging alone’.
“The Western Isles are the jewel in Scotland’s renewable energy crown” he said.
“I am determined to realise the stunning potential of these islands, to deliver jobs, security and wealth to the people of the Islands.”