First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has backed calls for the regulator for the UK’s electricity market OFGEM to reconsider its proposed rejection of plans for an interconnector to transmit power generated on the Isles of Lewis and Harris.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan raised the issue of an interconnector to the Western Isles with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during Thursday’s session of First Minister’s Questions.

She replied: "The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to unlocking the vast renewables potential of our islands and the associated economic benefits for our island communities. We are very concerned at the uncertainty over the proposed connection from the Western Isles.

"The Government believes that for the islands’ full renewables potential to be realised, a larger link is required, so I very much agree with the sentiment of Alasdair Allan’s question.

"We have made arguments directly to Ofgem to support that point, and we will continue to do so as we engage further with it and with island stakeholders and developers during the on-going consultation process.

"I assure Alasdair Allan—and the chamber—that we will make absolutely every effort to secure the right outcome for the Western Isles.

Earlier this week the regulator for the UK’s electricity market OFGEM announced that it was “minded to” reject proposals for a 600MW transmission link to the mainland in favour of a substantially smaller 450MW.

This would make existing projects less competitive while severely constraining the capacity available for new island renewables projects.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “The Western Isles have enormous renewables potential and there is a groundswell of desire for further development that would have significant socio-economic benefit to our communities. However, this week’s announcement from OFGEM rejecting proposals for a 600MW link is a serious hindrance to those ambitions.

“I am grateful to the First Minister for her support on this issue and for her commitment that the Scottish Government will make absolutely every effort in terms of lobbying OFGEM and the UK Government.”

Earlier a senior councillor criticised Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for its handling of the development of renewables in the Western Isles, following the announcement by energy regulator Ofgem,

Angus McCormack, the member for Steornabhagh A Deas, has been a councillor for 16 years and is current chair of the Education, Sport and Children’s Services Committee.

He also has a long involvement with community renewables projects and is the Honorary President of Point and Sandwick Trust, who operate the UK’s largest community-owned wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Angus said: “I’m really disappointed in the result, in what Ofgem is suggesting, but my concern is that over the years the Comhairle has put all its eggs in one basket, namely Lewis Wind Power, and it has ignored the potential for building up a sizeable community renewable sector in these islands as part of this deal. 

“That is something that I have been pursuing for quite some time within the council.

“I’ve had no support for it, because it would have meant that, some considerable years ago, the council would have had to set aside a considerable sum of money – I’m talking about between half and a million pounds – and a small unit within the council to advise communities and crofters on how to take forward the acquisition of planning permission and access to the grid.

“Had we done that, over the years, we would now have a bank of applications ready to support the coming of the interconnector and these community wind farms would play a significant role in being transformational for our islands in the way that Lewis Wind Power will never be.”

Councillor McCormack added: “I’m puzzled, shall we say, at the content of the Ofgem statement. It would appear that Ofgem believes there is nobody else in the race but Lewis Wind Power.

“They do not appear to mention Forsa, nor do they mention anything at all about community wind farms. I would have thought that Ofgem would be familiar with all of these issues and would take them into account in their argument. 

“They also in their statement appear to be linking the CfD acquisition purely and simply to Lewis Wind Power as if no other could acquire such support. I don’t understand that and I wonder how on earth they have arrived at the position they are currently in.”