The new cable to replace the broken undersea connection for power to the Western Isles should be bigger and better, an expert has said.
And the extra capacity should be reserved for community owned wind farms, is the call from former MP and Scottish Government Minister Calum MacDonald.
Mr MacDonald is also the developer and manager of the Point and Sandwick Trust community windfarm on Lewis.
He said the total cost of the broken undersea cable, which means providing back up power to Lewis and Harris via old diesel power stations for the next 12 monhts, is £30million.
Following the disastrous break in October, which caused a black out on the islands, local wind farms have been forced to close down as they are unable to sell power to the grid.
This has been a massive blow to local charities, which would normally benefit from a total of £500,000 a year from community wind farms.
Stornoway-based Western Isles Foyer, which provided accommodation, drop in and training services to young people, folded last month after losing its £50,000 grant.
Mr MacDonald is calling for all the capacity on a new cable to be ringfenced for the output from local community-owned wind farms.
He said: “With all the island wind farms being forced to close down and all the power for the next 12 months coming from old diesel power stations, the total financial cost is around £30million.
“But with a bit of imagination and a joint effort from government at all levels, local, Scottish and UK, the islands can emerge from this stronger by literally building back better.
“Instead of a like-for-like replacement cable to Skye and the mainland, we need a much bigger cable that can boost the community sector by easing the grid bottleneck that has been stifling development for years.
“In 2017, Point and Sandwick Trust commissioned a study into the Skye cable which showed it could be expanded to provide an extra 100 MW of capacity at a cost of £70million. Given the £30million cost of the this year’s cable disaster, that would seem to be a bargain.
“Access to this extra capacity should be reserved for local, community-owned wind farms and not gobbled up by large corporate developers.
“We have the largest cluster of community wind farms in the UK and we can make it bigger if we make the new Skye cable a ‘community cable’. There is no practical or financial reason why it cannot happen but it will require all of local and national government to work with the community sector to deliver. It is simply too big an opportunity for the islands to miss.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scottish Ministers do not have a formal role in regulatory matters, which remain reserved to UK Ministers and the UK wide regulator, Ofgem.
“However, we are engaging with community energy stakeholders on the Western Isles and with the network owner, SSE Networks, following the recent cable failure between Skye and the Western Isles, to understand the effects of the outage and to discuss different options for repair aimed at ensuring a resilient and secure energy system on the islands.
“We have long advocated for new transmission connections to all our island groups, which will be essential to unlocking their huge renewables potential, and have lobbied UK Ministers and the regulator, Ofgem, on this point. We will continue to work with SSE Networks, Ofgem and island stakeholders to consider and explore all options for delivering connections and arrangements which support renewable development across the Western Isles.”