The soaring cost of copper is threatening to cost the fragile Western Isles economy millions of pounds and even wreck the islands windfarm industry.
The high price of the valuable metal has contributed to a delay of at least a year in laying a major subsea cable required to export wind and wave electricity to the mainland.
The Western Isles Council was yesterday treating the situation as a crisis which could lead to major windfarms pulling out of the islands.
Senior councillors were in urgent talks with the Scottish Government, energy regulator Ofgem and power company SSE over the issue.
The council wanted to know why the situation was allowed to develop to this stage and queried what was happening while the cable costs soared from £460million to £700million. The high specification of the cable required was another reason for the jump in costs.
Work on the 50-mile link between Lewis and Ullapool was due start soon and be ready in 2015. Work is now pushed back by at least a year and will stall the construction of giant windfarms on Lewis.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) which operates the national grid in Scotland warns of further delays to the new completion date of late 2016.
One small developer reckoned that each year’s delay to just a number of community schemes would lose £2.5million to the islands’ economy. The impact on lost community benefit from the larger private schemes would easily double that figure.
The onshore converter station and associated cabling has risen to £75million.
A SSE spokeswoman said the charge to export electricity on the cable will now be more expensive.
She said: “The increased cost of the link will have a consequential impact on transmission charges and, hence, the affordability for generators.”
She highlighted giant windfarm developments on Lewis will be required to give a “further commitment,” understood to mean a financial payment, in spring next year, “in order to meet the already challenging programme.”
Two developments have received planning permission and more are in the pipeline.
Council leader Angus Campbell said: “A lot of renewable developments here will be affected.”