Is it time to switch to a better energy creation plan in the Western Isles?

The community owned wind turbines at Beinn Ghrideag on the Pentland Road are spinning up a better, brighter future for the Point and Sandwick community and others across Lewis. Is the time now right to think outside the box and come up with a strategy for much more of this kind of local development.  Picture by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos
The community owned wind turbines at Beinn Ghrideag on the Pentland Road are spinning up a better, brighter future for the Point and Sandwick community and others across Lewis. Is the time now right to think outside the box and come up with a strategy for much more of this kind of local development. Picture by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos

The Western Isles renewable energy ambitions have been shaken with the recent news that the Stornoway Wind Farm project has been unable to secure a ‘Contracts for Difference’ (CfD) - the Government’s subsidy mechanism for supporting low-carbon electricity generation.

Two Island projects Muaitheabhal Wind Farm (Eishken) and Druim Leathann Windfarm (Tolsta) were able to secure a CfD.

However, the Stornoway Wind Farm - a 36-turbine plan - failed in its bid, which now has implications on whether or not the region will be able to secure a larger energy cable (interconnector) needed to transfer energy generated in the Isles to the mainland electricity grid. The Stornoway Wind Farm project had been seen by many as vital to securing the interconnector.

The project had the potential to produce up to 180MW, but with its failure, the 369 to 400MW needed for the interconnector cannot be met by the remaining projects, Tolsta and Eishken, which together, will only produce up to 240MW.

Concerns over the inconnector were immediately voiced, however doggedly determined in its course, a spokesperson for the Comhairle, said: “Since the CfD announcements the Comhairle has been in discussion with the developers, SSEN and the Scottish Government.

“As a result of these conversations the Comhairle remains committed to delivering a large-scale inter-connector for the benefit of the economy of the Outer Hebrides.”

However, while many lamented the CfD news, others saw it as an opportunity to refocus on community owned schemes in the future.

Four energy companies - Sandwick North, Sandwick East, Melbost Branahuie and Aignish Community Energy - recently sought to develop renewable energy projects on their common grazings in Lewis, but they were stymied in their ambitions, as their plans conflicted with the Stornoway Wind Farm development.

This week Rhoda Mackenzie, the representative for Sandwick North Community Energy, called for a “new approach” in developing renewable energy in the Isles.

She said: “We believe it is time now for a new approach. There is still plenty of scope to develop renewables on the islands but we need to do so in a way that puts community-owned energy front and centre.

“The right way forward is to increase the capacity of the existing grid via new demand through electrification and hydrogen, install new storage via battery, and start working on an upgrade of the existing Skye connector.

“It is essential that the new Plan B is built around, by and for community-owned energy, as that is the only way to keep the income and profits in the islands.

“The Comhairle must not see the CfD outcome as a defeat, but as an opportunity for them to take the lead in developing a new partnership with the community energy companies in the islands to work together and to unite around a new Plan B.”

It is believed that Councillors will be briefed on Island renewables this week and perhaps such views on a ‘Plan B’ may be part of that discussion.

Local wind farms could produce the electricity needed for cars; also the hydrogen needed to replace the existing town gas and the marine oil used in our ferries.

New forms of storage could make the local grid work more efficiently and a stronger case could be made to upgrade the existing Skye energy cable.

Certainly there is plenty for local politicians to talk about and drive forward.

And at least some Councillors may already be sold on putting local ownership at the heart of a new way forward.

As part of a Gazette article in June, Stornoway Councillor Angus McCormack, said the Council should build its own wind farm and reap all the profits from such a project for the wider community benefit.

He also floated the ideas of the Council setting up and funding a ‘Community Renewables Unit’ to help other projects get up and running.

He added that the Council should work to resolve issues in the distribution network and it should set out a case to upgrade the present Skye interconnector, with any extra capacity gained, to be used only for community-owned renewable projects.