Plans for a future of exporting huge levels of  ‘green’ electricity from the Western Isles got another glimmer of hope for eventual success today.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), operating as Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission under licence, has today (Tuesday August 14th) submitted to the energy regulator, Ofgem, a Strategic Wider Works (SWW) ‘Final Needs Case’ for a subsea cable transmission link from Western Isles to the Scottish mainland.  

The network reinforcement is required to enable access to the GB market for renewable generation seeking to connect on Western Isles.

The Western Isles is home to some of Scotland’s greatest wind resource and following the growth in small-scale renewable electricity generation over recent years, the existing Western Isles electricity network is at full capacity.

The proposed interconnector would deliver 600MW of new capacity, allowing new renewable generation on Western Isles to connect to the GB transmission network.

The transmission link is subject to the success of Western Isles renewable developers in the Contracts for Difference  (CfD) auction next year and regulatory approval

Following confirmation from the UK Government to allow remote island onshore wind to compete in the next CfD auction in May 2019, there is now an opportunity to progress with the transmission reinforcement..

SSEN’s proposed solution would deliver a deliver a single 600MW subsea circuit from Arnish on Lewis to Dundonnell on the Scottish mainland.  This would then connect to SSEN’s Beauly substation near Inverness via underground cables.

In the Needs Case, SSEN presents a comprehensive analysis of the investment options available to meet a range of credible future generation scenarios on the Western Isles.

This analysis concludes that a 600MW HVDC connection is the optimal solution, predicated on the two largest transmission contracted generation schemes securing a CfD in the forthcoming 2019 auction. SSEN’s analysis has been assessed by both National Grid, as the System Operator, and independent economic consultants. 

SSEN is therefore requesting a conditional approval of the Needs Case from Ofgem subject to demonstration that sufficient volume of generation has been committed to by developers following the 2019 CfD auction.

Throughout the development of the Needs Case, SSEN has engaged with a broad range of stakeholders, from local elected representatives and community groups to its contracted customers and wider industry. 

This engagement has identified broad support for SSEN’s proposed solution due to its favourable impact on project economics, the significant socio-economic benefits the link would provide the Western Isles community and the opportunity for additional generation to connect in the future, particularly the many community renewable schemes planned.

Dave Gardner, SSEN’s Director of Transmission, said: “Today marks a significant milestone in providing a transmission connection to the Western Isles.  We believe our proposal represents a robust, economic case for reinforcement and provides the best possible opportunity to unlock the renewable potential of the Western Isles. 

“There are still many hurdles to overcome, not least the requirement for sufficient volumes of renewable generation capacity securing a CfD contract to underpin the investment case. 

“We would like to thank our generation customers and wider stakeholders who have helped inform the development of the Needs Case and we now look forward to working constructively with Ofgem as they review our submission.”

More information on the Western Isles project can be found via the following link:

https://www.ssen-transmission.co.uk/projects/western-isles/

Will Collins, Project Manager, Lewis Wind Power, said: “Lewis Wind Power’s Uisenis and Stornoway projects make up just under 90% of the consented wind farm capacity in development on Lewis and - as SSE has highlighted - their success is fundamental to the business case for the proposed new interconnector with the mainland.

“The submission of the needs case is an important step in the development of renewable energy in the Western Isles.  We hope that the energy regulator Ofgem will see the clear merit in SSE’s proposals for a 600MW cable, which would accommodate the three consented projects on Lewis and also give communities across the Western Isles the chance to take forward additional development in the future.”

The four crofting townships who intend to bid in the Contracts for Difference auction next year have welcomed SSEN’s submission. 

The townships of Sandwick North Street, Melbost & Brananhuie, Sandwick East Street and Aignish have made a group statement in response to confirmation that a 600MW cable would be sought.  These townships, who have submitted a Section 50B application to the Crofting Commission in a bid to develop community-owned wind farms on their common grazings, hope to secure the vital subsidy in the CfD auction which opens next May.

 “We welcome the SSEN submission and the aim of the four townships is that our turbines will constitute 105MW of the proposed 600MW interconnector.

“This interconnector cannot be just for the multinationals. It has to be for the communities too.

“The sad fact is that we are the only community projects in a position to participate in the CfD auction next year and the only ones with any prospect of development – and without community turbines on the interconnector, the ultimate benefit for the islands will be pitiful.”

Chairman of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee, Councillor Donald Crichton, said of the submission: “This is excellent news for the islands and represents the culmination of many years of hard work by the Comhairle and its partners to achieve network reinforcement for the Western Isles. 

"If approved, the Radial Connector will open the way for the development of a transformative Renewable Energy industry in the Western Isles.  A 600MW cable means that there is room for the commercial baseload required to justify this level of investment but also room for the community, through a Joint Venture between the Local Authority and The Stornoway Trust, to purchase up to 100MW of consented and connected Onshore Wind generation and for future, community led, generation schemes to come forward. 

"But we cannot be presumptuous – SSEN have made clear that, if Stornoway Wind Farm and Uisenis Wind Farm do not secure Contracts for Difference in next year’s Price Support incentive Auction at present generation volumes, there will be no investment case for network reinforcement and the Radial Connector project will be cancelled. 

“We will continue to work with our partners in Government, regulation, electricity networks and industry to secure the Radial Connector project as the best outcome for our island communities”.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil also welcomed confirmation that Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has today submitted the Needs Case to Ofgem for the Western Isles transmission link. Mr MacNeil said: “I am very pleased that the Needs Case has now been submitted for the transmission link and I am particularly pleased that the proposal is for a 600MW link allowing for maximum benefit for island communities.

“The construction of the link is still dependent on the success of island projects in the CfD auction and regulatory approval, however this is a very welcome significant step.”

(additional comments have been added to this article since it was first posted.)