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Green light for Western Isles electricity link to ‘unlock vast potential’

Offshore wind farm turbines
The subsea

A long-awaited decision to connect wind farms in the Western Isles to the grid has been welcomed as a “hugely significant milestone” that will “unlock vast renewable potential” in the area.

A green light for plans for a subsea interconnector to Arnish from Beauly near Inverness comes after “many false dawns spanning decades” as the project awaited the green light from energy regulator, Ofgem.

Councillors in the Western Isles welcomed the approval of the link as the “most significant economic development ever to take place in the Western Isles”.

Ofgem green light

The backing for a multi-billion pound investment in a  number of electricity transmission reinforcement projects by north of Scotland electricity network operator Scotland and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) have been confirmed in the regulator’s “accelerated strategic transmission investment” (ASTI) framework.

Of these, the 1.8GW Western Isles subsea link from the mainland to Lewis was deemed by the National Grid to be “essential” in order to meet UK government targets to deliver 50GW of power from offshore wind.

The link will run underground from National Grid at Beauly to Dundonnel then subsea to Arnish Point near Stornoway.

North of Scotland electricity transmission network map
Ofgem has approved the need for the SSEN 1.8GW interconnector link to the Western Isles. Image: SSE

Other projects backed by Ofgem in its framework include a high-voltage link between Spittal in Caithness to Peterhead, a subsea link from Peterhead to England and the  reinforcement of the transmission links across the north and north-east, between Beauly, Blackhillock, New Deer and Peterhead; between Beauly, Loch Buidhe and Spittal; and Kintore, Tealing and Westfield; as well as the uprating the existing Beauly to Denny line.

SSEN added that the decision bolstered a “clear case to progress with plans to develop a transmission links to Orkney”.

SSEN, part of Perth-based energy firm SSE, said the regulator’s move confirms all of its projects that National Grid has identified as being required to deliver significant offshore wind projects being developed around the coasts of Scotland as part of the ScotWind offshore wind scheme.

This includes proposals for the Northland Sheena offshore wind farm near Lewis.

‘Many false dawns’

Concerns had been raised after the interconnector project had not been included in Ofgem’s consultation on accelerating onshore electricity transmission investment.

The new link will have the capacity to accommodate all known onshore wind contracted to connect in the Western Isles, as well as the two ScotWind sites closest to the islands, and the provision to transmit energy generated by future renewables projects in the islands.

Rob McDonald, managing director of SSEN Transmission, said: “After many false dawns spanning decades, today’s decision is a hugely significant milestone in finally unlocking the Western Isles vast renewable potential and importantly, provides the certainty we, our supply chain and Western Isles renewable developers need to take forward our investments.

“We would like to thank all those who have supported the need to provide a transmission connection to the Western Isles and we now look forward to working constructively with all stakeholders to deliver this long awaited and much needed investment, which will deliver significant local and national socio-economic benefits, as well as supporting 2030 Government targets, our future energy security and a pathway to net zero emissions.”

SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan said: “It has been a frustrating business over the years, getting certainty about this project, and I hope that we now at last have some of that certainty.”

A spokesperson for SSEN Transmission added that the “clear shift” in government and regulatory policy towards investing in network infrastructure to meet future energy needs that there is now a “clear case to progress with plans to develop a transmission links to Orkney”.

It added: “We will continue to work constructively with Ofgem, government and wider stakeholders to secure the necessary regulatory approvals to take forward our proposals to at the earliest opportunity, unlocking Orkney’s vast renewable potential.”

Western Isles Council also welcomed news that the transmission link  to export “clean green” electricity from the Islands into the National Grid had been approved for delivery.

Link the “most significant” development ever

Council leader Paul Steele hailed the move as the the “most significant economic development ever to take place in the Western Isles”.

He said: “The islands have waited a long time for this excellent news.

“The potential for the Western Isles to be a world class resource in renewable energy has long been talked about and that potential can now be delivered for the benefit of the climate, UK energy security and our island economy.

“It has taken many years of hard work by so many people but the result is the most significant economic development ever to take place in the Western Isles,”

Cllr Donald Crichton, chair of the Comhairle’s sustainable development committee, said the link would “transform the economy of the Islands” as renewable energy projects that become viable thanks to the link provide funds for local community groups and opportunities for local companies to work on them.

He said: “The Comhairle has long campaigned for this transmission link and its delivery is testament to the staying power of the Comhairle over a period of almost 20 years, refusing to let this opportunity go and maintaining pressure on government, the regulator and our regional transmission owner.

“This is great and welcome news which has the potential to transform the economy of the islands through conventional community benefit, shared ownership in generation and supply chain benefits.

“The Comhairle will continue to press for early delivery of the link, before 2030 if possible.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “This opens up the islands to fulfil its renewable energy potential bringing massive benefits to the islands’ economy.

“For so long we wanted Ofgem to green light a 600MW connection and they were insisting on 450WM.  Now Ofgem have green lighted a 1.8GW connector.

“Years have been lost and things could be a lot better had this been built years ago.

“As it is, construction is expected to be ongoing in 2025/26 with the project finished in 2030.”