Protests have erupted in the Islands and northern Highlands over possible additional electricity bills totalling more than £250 million to pay for additional standards of seabed cabling.
It is claimed that under Scottish Government proposals, the cost of replacing 112km of cabling over the next eight years will rise from £44million to £300 million, an increase of almost seven times, all to be paid for by the consumer.
Angus McCormack, who chairs the Western Isles Poverty Action Group, said: "It is clear from our meeting with SSE today that this matter is being driven by the Scottish Government.
"The implications for islanders are very serious indeed. I think that Alasdair Allan MSP needs to take this matter very seriously and seek to have this proposition withdrawn immediately.
"Given that there have been no concerns about cables lying on the sea bed in all the years that SSE have been operating, there is no need for this absurd proposal."
This came after representatives of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar attended a consultation meeting undertaken by Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD) into “Submarine Electricity Cables” where they heard that new national Marine Plan policies will add to the cost of electricity cables and that cost will be passed on to local consumers.
The representatives heard that the need to consult arises out of the recently published National Marine Plan, which puts in place policies around how submarine electricity cables are laid and protected on the seabed to “achieve seabed user co-existence”.
Councillor Alasdair Macleod, who chairs the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee, said, “It was hugely concerning to hear about these new policies, the potential costs arising from them and the fact that consumers in the Outer Hebrides and the north of Scotland will have to pick up the cost.
"Electricity bills in the Outer Hebrides are already excessive and further costs will simply push people further into fuel poverty. Fuel poverty levels in the Outer Hebrides presently stand at 71% and additional costs on bills will only further exacerbate this.
"I was surprised to learn at the meeting that SSEPD’s preferred option is to continue laying cable as per their tried-and-tested practice. There is no evidence base to suggest this practice needs to change – over the past 25 years there has only been one cable incident.
"To bring in new policy that will potentially add additional costs to local electricity bills is unacceptable when the system is working well at present. It will be essential that the Scottish Government reviews its policy on this issue to prevent further costs being unnecessarily being applied to the bills of consumers in the Outer Hebrides.”