Electricity consumers in the Western Isles are paying a levy on their household bill to cover the cost of protecting underwater cables.

A call has now been made to ensure that work to protect cables is only done where absolutely necessary.

Scottish and Southern Energy (Distribution) recently hosted a workshop in Stornoway, exploring the relative costs and benefits of protecting the underwater electricity cables laid by the company in the future.  

Under the current regulatory regime, the cost of protecting these cables, by burial in the seabed or by rock ‘mattressing’, is passed onto electricity consumers in the North of Scotland.

The workshop was attended by Comhairle members and representatives of the fisheries and environmental sector.  The workshop explored the potential for ‘cable incidents’ which could pose a threat to sea users or compromise electricity supply to consumers.  Given that there have been very few ‘cable incidents’ over the past 25 years, those present felt cable protection measures should be introduced on a risk basis as opposed to a blanket requirement for cable protection which would place an intolerable financial burden on electricity consumers in the islands.

Councillor Donald Crichton, Vice Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee, said, “The Comhairle has already responded to a formal consultation by SSE on this matter.  Obviously, the safety of sea users is paramount and we would urge cable protection where a demonstrable risk exists but, in most areas, submarine electricity cables and sea users co-exist quite happily and the unnecessary and disproportionate imposition of expensive cable protection measures in these locations will only serve to increase island electricity bills".

Councillor Angus MacCormack, Chair of the Western Isles Poverty Action Group, added, "Statistics released by the Scottish Government last week show that 62% of island homes are in Fuel Poverty, spending more than 10% of their household income on heating the home.  This is against a Scottish average of 35%.  These levels of Fuel Poverty are unacceptable and I would urge Marine Scotland, the licensing authority for Scotland’s seas, to take a proportionate approach in requiring the protection of cables, in the knowledge that unnecessary protection means unnecessarily high electricity bills in the islands”.

Since the proposed National Grid Radial Connector between Beauly and Lewis is a Transmission asset as opposed to a Distribution asset, the cost of its protection does not fall on the domestic consumer.