A Lewis community council has written to the Scottish energy minister to express their deep concerns about the loss of the island’s 30-year-old power cable to Skye two weeks ago.
Stornoway community council wants Paul Wheelhouse’s support for replacing the cable as an immediate priority, and have it ring-fenced for community-generated power.
The community councillors are also asking the Scottish Government to work with SSE to create a power management system for the islands, where their existing wind turbines – along with battery storage solutions – could supply local power in the event of a future cable failure.
Lewis and Harris are now dependent on ancient diesel generators, and the community councillors say they are gravely concerned about their reliability.
Vice-chairwoman Katie Laing said: “We have grave concerns over the power station’s capability to maintain a steady and sustainable supply to the islands over the winter period.
“The island systems will be at the mercy of the weather and will have no back-up should any of the diesel engines go down or if there is any break in local power lines or transformers.”
She said it was ironic that islands so rich in wind resource is pouring streams of dirty emissions into the atmosphere.
“Our carbon footprint right now does not bear thinking about.”
The community councillors have also told Mr Wheelhouse that community wind farms face a loss of income for many months which will have a catastrophic impact locally due to the amount of money they generate for good causes.
Ms Laing said: “As just one example, the local Bethesda Care Home and Hospice receives a grant of £55,000 a year from one of the community wind farms to help support its running costs.
“Fundraising is always a struggle for Bethesda and we would be very concerned that they would be unable to close a funding gap of this magnitude, should it appear.”
The case for a major connector across the North Minch is awaiting a decision, but the community councillors say they cannot wait for it, and need their broken cable to be upgraded community cable standards.
Ms Laing said: “Our information is that this could allow an increase of 100MW and it would be a prudent and sensible act of future-proofing to put in a bigger cable instead of a similar-sized cable since the work has to be done anyway.
“The cable that broke was 30-years-old.
“If we don’t get this right now, then it could be another 30 years before we get another chance to revisit this.
“In terms of the climate crisis, it would be too late.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar leader councillor Roddie Mackay said the council has received confirmation from SSE that the back-up arrangements are adequate and the replacement cable could take up to a year.
He said: “We will press for the optimum capacity on the new connection and of course the crucial point is the potential for export for all our community projects, both established and pipeline.”
The Scottish Government has been approached for comment about the community council’s letter to Mr Wheelhouse.