A senior councillor has criticised Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for its handling of the development of renewables in the Western Isles.
His comments followed the announcement by energy regulator OFGEM that it is minded to reject a proposal by Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) to build a 600MW transmission cable to connect the Western Isles to mainland Scotland in favour of a 450MW connection.
Angus McCormack, the member for Steornabhagh A Deas, has been a councillor for 16 years and is the current chair of the Education, Sport and Children’s Services Committee.
He also has a long involvement with community renewables projects and is the Honorary President of Point and Sandwick Trust, who operate the UK’s largest community-owned wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag.
Speaking on Wednesday morning, Angus said: “I’m really disappointed in the result, in what OFGEM is suggesting, but my concern is that over the years the Comhairle has put all its eggs in one basket, namely Lewis Wind Power, and it has ignored the potential for building up a sizeable community renewable sector in these islands as part of this deal.
“That is something that I have been pursuing for quite some time within the council.
“I’ve had no support for it, because it would have meant that, some considerable years ago, the council would have had to set aside a sum of money – I’m talking about between half and a million pounds – and a small unit within the council to advise communities and crofters on how to take forward the acquisition of planning permission and access to the grid.
“Had we done that, over the years, we would now have a bank of applications ready to support the coming of the interconnector and these community wind farms would play a significant role in the transformation of our islands in the way that Lewis Wind Power will never be.”
Cllr McCormack added: “I’m puzzled, shall we say, at the content of the OFGEM statement. It would appear that they believe there is nobody else in the race but Lewis Wind Power.
“They do not appear to mention Forsa, nor do they mention anything at all about community wind farms.
“I would have thought that OFGEM would be familiar with all of these issues and would take them into account in their argument.
“They also in their statement appear to be linking the CfD acquisition purely and simply to Lewis Wind Power as if no other could acquire such support. I don’t understand that and I wonder how they have arrived at the position they are currently in.”
The Stornoway Trust, who are working with the Comhairle and multi-national energy giant, EDF, through Lewis Wind Power, to develop wind farms near Stornoway and Eishken defended larger scale projects this week.
Stornoway Trust Factor Iain M. Maciver, said: “It is my understanding that the prospect of having to fund the cost and subsequent use of a 450 MW cable to the mainland will adversely impact on the financial viability of all island schemes, be they large or small.
“While OFGEM’s reluctance to approve a 600MW connection is hugely disappointing, maybe their stance is a timely warning to those whose motives appear to be the endangerment of the future prospects of the Lewis Wind Power and Druim Leathann schemes, which already have consent, and upon which OFGEM’s approval of even a 450MW link is dependant.
“In the weeks ahead we have got another opportunity to persuade the regulator that we are eagerly pursuing the prospect of strengthening the case needed to unlock our wind, wave and tidal energy resource.
“By boosting our generation capacity through other schemes like the proposed Arnish Moor development, which is currently looking at the possibility of generating upwards of 30MW of additional community owned power, I believe we can achieve our goal to strengthen a tenable 600MW needs case.”