The massive Stornoway and Uisenis wind power projects are progressing towards a crucial stage in what has been a story almost 20 years in the making, it was said at the opening of the venture’s new office in Stornoway this week.

And the Stornoway Trust and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have pledged to work closer together in relation to their shares in the two projects by exploring “the establishment of a joint venture vehicle to bring the two ownership stakes together to allow us to achieve economies and to ensure that the potential for ownership within our community is maximised.”

Mark Vyvyan Robinson, one of the directors of Lewis Wind Power, a joint venture between the Wood Group and EDF Energy Renewables, which already has extensive investment in renewable energy across Scotland, spoke about the project’s progress.

He said the new office was just one of the ways they are developing this project which has a large team now working on it. Several of those involved are actually from the Outer Hebrides, including twio engineering student placements from Lews Castle College. They are strengthening their involvement with the local community. “We have already got some very strong connections with Lewis.”

Over the next few months, there are crucial developments at UK government level. Remote Island Wind should be defined in law as an official source of renewable electricity supply and state aid clearance should be received from the European Commission. These are both essential to allow the scheme to bid for the official “Contracts for Difference” which are needed to underpin the investment. This auction is expected to take place in early 2019 and will see Lewis Wind Power pitted against a host of other schemes across the UK. Meanwhile, work continues on the Interconnector link to the mainland.

But he emphasised that there was no guarantee of success as the competition for the contracts was expected to be tough.

The benefits of success include the construction of the Interconnector which would allow other community-based wind farms to provide power to the grid; up to 600 jobs on the Islands at the peak; and up to £400m of benefits to the economy over the lifetime of the project.

The leader of Comhairle na Eilean Siar, Councillor Roddie Mackay said the roll out of renewable energy in the islands has been disappointingly slow and the establishment of a new industry has taken much longer than anyone anticipated.  

The initial Lewis Wind Power project was announced in December 2001 and there was much excitement as the project went through the Comhairle's planning process in 2004.  Then came the disappointment of the project's rejection in 2008 and the renewed enthusiasm around the emergence of the Stornoway Wind Farm concept in 2010.

‘I should say here that it is a real testament to the tenacity of both Lewis Wind Power and the Stornoway Trust that you have both hung in there to get us to this point.”

He said that Council discussions with senior members of the U.K. Government make it clear that they are committed to seeing an interconnector to the Outer Hebrides happening.  They are clear that they see this as a fundamental part of the "Islands Deal" which CnES are presently discussing with Government.  

In the Stornoway Wind Farm project the Stornoway Trust has negotiated an ownership stake of up to 20% and in the Uisenis project up to 30% ownership has been negotiated by the Comhairle.

“These are substantial ownership stakes, which have the potential, depending on the final configuration of the projects, of putting close around 75MW of clean, green, electricity generation into community ownership. This is unprecedented community potential.

“Working with a major developer removes all pre-implementation risk from the community.  Given that planning consents and grid connection contracts are already in place it offers the most effective, low-cost, low-risk way for communities to get involved in renewable energy generation.

We now need to build on that potential and so I am pleased to announce today that the Comhairle and the Stornoway Trust have agreed to explore the establishment of a joint venture vehicle to bring the two ownership stakes together to allow us to achieve economies and to ensure that the potential for ownership within our community is maximised.

“ I think this partnership between the Trust and the Comhairle, as the two largest democratic bodies in the Outer Hebrides, represents a significant step forward.”

For the Stornoway Trust, Mr Iain Maciver emphasised the hostile attitude to community ownership and involvement which had existed at the time the project was originally mooted almost 20 years ago and how much progress had been made by the Trust to get such involvement since then.