View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


For several years now, there has been discussion on upgrading the electricity link between Lewis, Harris and the Scottish mainland. This is particularly necessary in view of the various windfarms and other renewable energy projects in the island. SSE, which are proposing to build the link, are holding a public consultation from 21 October until 20 November. I am publishing my feedback to the project below.

For reference, HVDC means High Voltage Direct Current.


A few points as feedback for the Western Isles project.

1. The list of renewable energy sites which would connect into the HVDC link does not include the Pairc Windfarm. Planning consent remains current (if memory serves), but the developer SSE withdrew a while back. A new developer is still being sought. I would have expected this project to be included as well. Again from memory, the output would have been not far off 100 MW.

2. The Muaitheabhal windfarm (Eishken) still features in the list, in spite of the fact that developer GDF / Suez (or whatever they are called these days) pulled out. If the logic applies as per point 1, I would have expected this project to have been omitted from the list.

3. Over the past few years, SSE have put back a decision whether or not to proceed with the HVDC link on the grounds that they did not feel its economical viability was assured. This became an issue after consent for the North Lewis Windfarm was withheld in 2008. The rump of that is now the Stornoway Windfarm.

4. From the above points, I feel that the question becomes pertinent whether SSE feels that the HVDC is economically viable. If the answer is now affirmative, the follow-up question should be whether this still applies if no developer is found for Muaitheabhal, as that would slash 159 MW off the total Western Isles output, reducing it to approximately 290 MW. A developer has to be found by 2017 - the expiry date for the planning consent. Looking at your documentation, your timeline suggests that the construction of the link would be well underway. Would it not be commercially more sensible to wait for a developer to be found for Muaitheabhal, rather than take the substantial risk of committing SSE to a major investment (of some £1bn) on which it may then not get sufficient return?

5. I am getting the impression that SSE is actually now committing itself to the construction of the HVDC link, possibly under political pressure. This, from my perspective, emanates from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar all the way up to the Energy Minister in the Scottish Government. Whilst I appreciate that renewable energy has its role to play in fulfilling the energy requirements of the United Kingdom, there has also been a shift away from on-shore windfarms, due to changes to the subsidy structures that underpin these projects. Not everybody is happy to live under the shadow of a windfarm.

6. I am bemused to note that the Muaitheabhal project, without a single turbine on the hills, without a millimetre of infrastructure to link it to the National Grid, and without a single wattsecond to show for output, has already succeeded in producing hundreds of thousands of pounds of 'community benefit'. If anything, that shows me that this drive for on-shore windfarms has more to do with the lapping up of subsidies than a genuine desire to reduce the environmental impact of electricity generation. I am aware that there is the Siadar Wave Barrage amongst the Western Isles projects, adding the grand total of 40 MW to the overall output.

You will appreciate from my comments that I am critical of the advent of the HVDC and some of the renewable energy projects that have come to dot Lewis. I do hope that my remarks, meant constructively, are of use.