Islands’ electricity network strengthened

The electricity network in the Western Isles has been strengthened even further as part of a continuing multi-million pound investment programme by Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution (SHEPD) ensuring the lights stay on when customers need it most – over the winter months.

In 2011/12 the company plans to invest around £45M in its distribution networks. The substantial investment of around £3M in the Western Isles alone ensures a safe and reliable supply of electricity, helping ensure supplies are restored as quickly as possible in the event of power failures.

Line patrols have taken place throughout the Western Isles to give a strategic detailed view of the electricity network condition. Particular attention has been placed on the main fault areas from last year to identify parts which may have caused problems again, enabling SHEPD to take proactive steps to help prevent reoccurrences this year.

Engineers have reinforced many kilometres of the overhead network between Lochcarnan and Pollacher on South Uist and between Stornoway and Tarbert on Lewis & Harris. The investment in this alone tops £1M, considerably strengthening and securing the network for more than 4,000 customers in the area. Engineers have also identified areas in both Barra and the Uist isles where there have been problems with transformers. SHEPD have put a programme in place to proactively replace these units, further strengthening and securing the network in advance of the coming winter.

Some of the other activities that SHEPD have carried out throughout The Western Isles include:-

Ongoing maintenance and refurbishment of the overhead network to ensure its reliability and security;

To aid access, additional 4X4 vehicles have been brought in to help ensure engineers are able to reach the more remote parts of the network which can be difficult to reach in bad weather;

To help improve the service to customers during interruptions, street surveys have taken place, finding out what customers expect during outages and how customers would like to be kept updated;

SHEPD have strengthened their mobile generation fleet, allowing supplies to be restored quickly in the event of interruptions whilst permanent repairs take place;

Working closely with local authorities to co-ordinate access to snow moving equipment in the event it is required. Access in heavy snow can be the biggest challenge crews face.Staff members on the Western Isles have also been gearing up for the coming winter, and the local depot, located at Battery Point Power Station, Stornoway, has been running a programme to get staff and vehicles prepared for winter. Staff are being briefed on long distance forecasts; vehicles are being checked over to ensure they are roadworthy for winter; and staff have been provided with the necessary equipment in preparation for when the weather breaks.

SHEPD is also working closely with the local emergency planning group with their project to set up a social network page to help residents on the Western Isles through the winter.

Operations Manager George MacDonald, based in Stornoway, said: “Our ongoing investment programme in the Western Isles will mean our network is even more robust and if there is a power cut, supplies in the area will be restored more quickly. We have paid particular attention to areas which caused us problems last year to help prevent reoccurrences this year. Without this significant investment in the Western Isles network, winter storms could cause much more damage.” George added: “In the event of interruptions to supplies, it is vital that customers contact our emergency centre to help us identify the areas affected, giving a better indication on the severity of the fault.”

SHEPD has introduced advanced weather monitoring systems which allow plans to be put in place that will give staff more time to plan ahead and be ready for severe weather. This means it is far easier to mobilise crews, materials and equipment as quickly as necessary.

SHEPDs own meteorologist Simon Cardy, said: “We go into great detail monitoring weather conditions all around the world to discern long-term weather patterns and trends, and during the winter we’re providing local information on a daily and sometimes hourly basis to all our businesses around the local area.”

It is critical in an emergency that customers can get information they require. SHEPD has a tried and tested storm plan to ensure correct levels of staffing in its depots and call centres.

If customers do find themselves without electricity, the emergency contact number for them to call is 0800 300 999. SHEPD have also launched a new on-line service which will be updated live with details of any major interruptions to supply, providing real time information and advice for customers experiencing loss of supply. The website is available at http://www.ssepd.co.uk/Home/.

SHEPD have been working with the Scottish Government and local authorities over the past year to refine mutual plans to manage bad weather events and ensure actions are co-ordinated, with protocols developed to ensure the most vulnerable in communities are given the maximum levels of support possible.

SHEPD is also supporting the Scottish Government’s ‘Ready Scotland’ winter campaign, which provides invaluable advice on preparing for and dealing with the winter conditions. Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, who has responsibility for resilience issues, said: “Getting ready for winter is something we all need to do. This campaign will show the simple steps we can all take to achieve this, and play our part in helping Scotland be better prepared, whatever the weather throws at us.” To find out more about the Scottish Government’s campaign, visit www.readyscotland.org/.