A major push for a bigger interconnector project came this week with a high-voltage delegation sent from the Western Isles to London

Representatives from Stornoway Trust and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Joint Venture initiative travelled to London this week to meet with energy regulator, Ofgem.

The meeting, which took place on Thursday morning (May 2) at Ofgem’s office in the capital, gave both organisations an opportunity to discuss the needs case for a 600MW interconnector for the Western Isles to enable wider development of renewable energy generation .

This follows on from discussions facilitated by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in Stornoway last month, and involving the Stornoway Trust, as well as community and commercial developers.

Stornoway Trust Chairman, Norman A MacIver said: ‘We were very grateful to Ofgem for agreeing to meet with us, thereby providing a further opportunity to make the case for a 600MW connection. As community landlord, the Trust sees the regulator’s decision as pivotal to the future development of renewables in the Stornoway Estate, and across the Western Isles’.

Chair of the Trust’s Renewables Group, Calum MacLean added, ‘We believe it is our duty, as landlord, to provide the local insight that will assist Ofgem in coming to the right decision. While they have the widest interest of the UK consumer at heart, it’s up to us to help them see that provision of a 600MW cable is no detriment to that interest – and, in fact, to opt for anything less would, in our view, be short-sighted and potentially far more costly in the long-term.

“Our knowledge of the community here tells us that even a 600MW connection will very quickly be at full capacity, with a number of projects just waiting for the infrastructure that will help them realise their potential’.

Iain M MacIver, Factor of the Stornoway Trust Estate said: ‘Our aim was to stress the importance of a 600MW link, and I hope that we went some way towards achieving that goal. Ofgem, while minded to consent a 450MW connection, requires further assurances that a larger capacity cable will be more appropriate for our situation.

“I hope that we were able to persuade them that, behind our anchor project – of which they are already aware - - lies a list of community proposals, focussed on adding to these already consented schemes. Our aim is now to further engage with SHET to satisfy ourselves that our islands’ renewable generation potential is fully reflected in their submission to the regulator. As our grid provider, we believe that the robustness of their case will be a critical factor in helping us to achieve the outcome we require’.

The meeting was also attended by Calum Iain MacIver, Director of Communities at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.  Mr MacIver said: “This was an extremely useful meeting that provided us with good insight into Ofgem’s evolving thinking around the Needs Case.  Ofgem were able to update us on additional Business Case analysis they are undertaking and consideration they are giving to new and innovative approaches to protecting the GB consumer.  

“I left the meeting confident that Ofgem are treating the new evidence being presented by the Comhairle, the Stornoway Trust and other local stakeholders very seriously.  They were left in no doubt that a 600MW inter-connector is critical for Outer Hebrides and that our expectation was for them to deliver on that’.

The consultation on Ofgem’s response to the needs case for the cable remains open until 31stMay 2019, and a final decision is expected in the summer.

A renewed call for the Comhairle to build a wind farm was made at the Communities and Housing Committee on Tuesday 30th April.

During discussions about the interconnector and Ofgem’s view that the link would be underutilised, SNP group leader, Stornoway North councillor Gordon Murray asked that the viability of the Comhairle plugging the gap with turbines be an option.

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Murray stated: “It is hugely important that any financial benefits are equally distributed throughout the islands to all. The Comhairle and the Stornoway Trust have embarked on a joint venture and should be looking at having as many publicly-owned turbines as possible. 

"I represent a large number of people who don’t have crofts and they should not be left behind. I look forward to their discussions on this matter.

“The Comhairle represents all our interests and are custodians of our resources along with organisations such as the Stornoway Trust – therefore opportunities like this should benefit all rather than a few.”