‘Still a way ahead’ for Western Isles interconnector

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Energy regulator Ofgem has issued a statement encouraging Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) to submit a revised case for a 600mw electricity transmission link from the Western Isles to the Scottish mainland after the regulator confirmed that it was not able to back the development on the basis of current proposals.

Following the annoucement earlier this year that only one of the large wind farms planned for the Western Isles had secured subsidies in the government’s Contract for Difference (CfD) process, Ofgem had committed to backing the completion of lower capacity 450mw link, amid concerns that consumers could be left paying for ‘a significantly under-utilised transmission link’ if the larger capacity link were to be developed.

But Ofgem has now stated that it is willing to consider a revised proposal from SSEN if the developer can establish ‘more certainty for consumers’ that the wind farm projects which underpin their proposal will go ahead, and if consumers ‘were more appropriately protected from the risk of paying for an oversized link’.

Ofgem also said that it was committed to ‘helping deliver the most effective and fastest route to a net zero emissions economy at the lowest cost to consumers’, and in its statement concluded: “Ofgem is engaging with SSEN to secure evidenced and realistic proposals from them and will endeavour to consider them as soon as possible”.

SSEN’s Managing Director for Transmission, Rob McDonald, welcomed Ofgem’s “continued commitment” to the the transmission link and to allow the determination of a new ‘needs case’.

Mr MacDonald said: “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 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.”

Responding to Ofgem’s announcement the Comhairle welcomed the regulator’s announcement and Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay, said: “whilst developments have not taken place as we would have wished there is still a way ahead for the 600mw cable which we believe is the best option for the renewables industry in the Western Isles. We will continue to engage with developers, SSEN, Ofgem and the UK and Scottish Governments to bring that about.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil, expressed his “disappointment” at Ofgem’s announcement for “delaying progress for the Interconnector”, but said that he was encouraged “that the door is still open” to make progress with the 600MW capacity cable.

Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant expressed her “dismay” at Ofgem’s decision to refuse the proposed 600mw transmission link “despite urgent appeals from community groups to install the links and enable them to generate power”.

Rhoda Grant said: “Ofgem’s assessment of potential power generation disproportionately favours large developments which can afford to seek planning permission with no guarantees, but this does not reflect the potential of renewables power in Scotland’s Islands.

“In the Western Isles 60 per cent of land is now under community ownership, with 72 per cent of the population living on land owned and operated by community trusts and landowners. This is only going to increase. I did a piece of work earlier this year, in order to feed into Ofgem’s consultation, which identified that community trusts and landowners had plans for 519.3 MW of energy generation. Unfortunately they cannot seek planning or funding permission for this until a transmission link is approved.”

Ms Grant added: “Scottish rural communities are clamouring for the ability to provide us with their renewable resources and to achieve economic benefit from their land ownership; the UK is desperate for sustainable energy. I would think that the equation here is simple, but disappointingly Ofgem appears not to have taken this into account in their current assessment.”

Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Donald Cameron, said: “I look forward to continuing my work with local groups to ensure Ofgem fully understands how important this is for the future of our communities.

“The door is open and it is imperative that we get behind a renewed proposal that secures approval for a 600MW transmission link.”