A long-awaited decision to connect wind farms in the Western Isles to the grid has been welcomed as a “hugely significant milestone” that will “unlock vast renewable potential” in the area.
A green light for plans for a subsea interconnector to Arnish from Beauly near Inverness comes after “many false dawns spanning decades” as
the project awaited the green light from energy regulator Ofgem.
Councillors in the Western Isles welcomed the approval of the link as the “most significant economic development ever to take place in the Western Isles”.
The backing for a multi-billion pound investment in a number of electricity transmission reinforcement projects by north of Scotland electricity network operator Scotland and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) has been confirmed in the regulator’s “accelerated strategic transmission investment” (ASTI) framework.
Of these, the 1.8GW Western Isles subsea link from the mainland to Lewis was deemed by the National Grid to be “essential” in order to meet UK Government targets to deliver 50GW of power from offshore wind.
The link will run underground from National Grid at Beauly to Dundonnel, then subsea to Arnish Point near Stornoway.
Other projects backed by Ofgem in its framework include a high-voltage link between Spittal in Caithness to Peterhead, a subsea link from Peterhead to England and the reinforcement of the transmission links across the north and north-east, between Beauly, Blackhillock, New Deer and Peterhead; between Beauly, Loch Buidhe and Spittal; and Kintore, Tealing and Westfield; as well as the uprating of the existing Beauly to Denny line.
SSEN added that the decision bolstered a “clear case to progress with plans to develop a transmission link to Orkney”.
SSEN, part of Perth-based energy firm SSE, said the regulator’s move confirms all of its projects that National Grid has identified as being required to deliver significant offshore wind projects being developed around the coasts of Scotland as part of the ScotWind offshore wind scheme.
This includes proposals for the Northland Sheena offshore wind farm near Lewis.
Concerns had been raised after the interconnector project had not been included in Ofgem’s consultation on accelerating onshore electricity transmission investment.
The new link will have the capacity to accommodate all known onshore wind contracted to connect in the Western Isles, as well as the two ScotWind sites closest to the islands, and the provision to transmit energy generated by future renewables projects in the islands.
Rob McDonald, managing director of SSEN Transmission, said: “After many false dawns spanning decades, today’s decision is a hugely significant milestone in finally unlocking the Western Isles’ vast renewable potential and importantly provides the certainty we, our supply chain and Western Isles renewable developers need to take forward our investments.”
MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan said: “It has been a frustrating business over the years, getting certainty about this project, and I hope that we now at last have some of that certainty.”
A spokesperson for SSEN Transmission added that the “clear shift” in government and regulatory policy towards investing in network infrastructure to meet future energy needs that there is now a “clear case to progress with plans to develop a transmission links to Orkney”.
It added: “We will continue to work constructively with Ofgem, government and wider stakeholders to secure the necessary regulatory approvals to take forward our proposals to at the earliest opportunity, unlocking Orkney’s vast renewable potential.”
Western Isles Council also welcomed news that the transmission link to export “clean green” electricity from the Islands into the National Grid had been approved for delivery.