Making a new case for Western Isles energy link

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The future of the energy cable link from the Western Isles to the mainland, needed to transfer energy from renewable projects in the Islands to the Scottish electricity grid, was thrown into doubt last month following the news that the 36-turbine Stornoway Wind Farm project was unable to secure a ‘Contract for Difference’ (CfD).

That decision meant the Islands would be fighting an uphill battle to secure its preferred 600MW link - or even the 450MW link - which until that point was the preferred option of Ofgem, the energy regulatory body.

Today (Wednesday) Ofgem has published a statement saying its priority was to to help deliver the most effective and fastest route to a net zero emissions economy at the lowest cost to consumers.

The body went on to encourage revised proposals from Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) for the Western Isles and Shetland links.

On its website this morning, the regulator stated: “Ofgem is unable to approve SSEN’s proposal to build a 600MW transmission link to connect the Western Isles to mainland Scotland.

“In March 2019 Ofgem said it was minded not to approve the estimated £623 million link, but would approve a revised submission for a 450MW link, or consider the case for a 600MW link, if consumers were more appropriately protected from the risk of paying for an oversized link.

“The proposal from SSEN for a 600MW transmission link was based on the two largest planned projects, Stornoway and Uisenis Wind Farms securing subsidies in the recent auction.

“Only one of the projects was successful, increasing the risk that consumers would be paying for a significantly underutilised transmission link.

“Ofgem is engaging with SSEN to secure evidenced and realistic proposals from them and will endeavour to consider them as soon as possible.”

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) said they welcomed Ofgem’s commitment to find a way forward to progress the Needs Cases for both the Western Isles and Shetland transmission links.

SSEN said: “Following the outcome of the 2019 CfD auction, around 240MW of remote island wind on the Western Isles was successfully awarded a CfD, which is less than the 369MW required to support the transmission investment case.

“However, the potential that remote island wind developers may be able to progress without a CfD has already been publicly acknowledged.

“This update by Ofgem gives developers and SSEN Transmission the opportunity to demonstrate the continued need for the proposed links.”

The energy provider continued: “SSEN Transmission remains very confident that the proposed 600MW links remain the most economic and efficient solutions for each island group.

“These links accommodate all current contracted and consented generation on both island groups, with some additional capacity available for further developments.

“To provide the best possible opportunity for developers on the Western Isles, SSEN Transmission has made a proposal to Ofgem to address the regulator’s concerns that consumers may be paying for a potentially oversized link.

Commenting on Ofgem’s statement, Managing Director for Transmission, Rob McDonald, added: “We welcome Ofgem’s continued commitment to provide a way forward for both the Shetland and Western Isles transmission links and allow the determination of the Needs Cases.

“It is now critical that all parties work together to provide the information Ofgem require at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Ultimately, a successful outcome will depend on renewable developers on both island groups demonstrating that sufficient generation will progress to underpin the transmission investment cases.

“We will now work with all parties to provide all necessary information with the upmost urgency to ensure any delays to the process are kept to an absolute minimum and to help provide the island links the best chance of success.”