No ferries, no power links…is Nature declaring the Outer Hebrides independent! That's a thought as the whole of the Western Isles remains diesel-powered today for electricity (Tuesday 23 February) while Scottish and Southern Electricity Network (SSEN) engineers work to repair a fault within the substation at Ardmore in the Isle of Skye.

The Ardmore substation channels the routing of power to the whole island chain, via a subsea cable which splits to serve Lewis and Harris separately and the southern isles on their own spur link.

Lewis and Harris have been cut off from the main source since October last year, when an unknown incident severed the cable which serves the north islands mid-Minch. 

Since then Lewis and Harris have been supplied full-time by diesel generators at Battery Point in Stornoway and at Arnish. A replacement cable is projected to be in place by the end of August this year.

But yesterday afternoon (Monday) SSEN reported a total power loss to the southern isles, too, leaving 4,500 customers in the dark between 1.40pm and 3pm.

Power was restored using the generators at Loch Carnan in South Uist and Ardeveenish in Barra. Those power stations are still running today.

A spokesperson for SSEN distribution said: “This power cut was caused by a fault within our substation at Ardmore, Isle of Skye. To ensure security of supply to our customers until permanent repairs are complete, Loch Carnan power station has been supplying power to the islands.

“Our engineers are currently on site replacing electrical equipment within the substation and we expect repairs to be carried out by early this evening. Customers should not notice any impact to their power as we switch supplies back to the main network. 

“We would like to apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused and thank them for their patience as our engineers work to safely restore supplies as quickly as possible.”

SSEN Transmission had planned to replace the high voltage line which runs through Skye to serve the Western Isles within the current spending period, but their plans were knocked back by the regulating body Ofgem, which approves investment proposals. 

At the time of the SSEN project consultation in early 2020 they said: “The current line was constructed in three distinct sections between 1956 and 1989 and is now reaching the end of its operational life.  

“Its planned replacement is essential to maintain security of supply to homes and businesses along its route, as well as to the Western Isles, which is supplied by two subsea cables from Ardmore point.”

When Ofgem rejected the replacement plan, they said: “Wherever network companies have demonstrated they need vital funding we have given them the go-ahead. 

“However, SHET (Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission) has failed to bring forward to us evidence of the need to replace or renew substations at Broadford and Quoich over the next five years, dismissing, for example, even minimum refurbishment options.

“This money will come out of all consumers’ bills, and we can’t green-light spending consumers’ money on poorly-evidenced proposals. We now expect them to come forward with better-evidenced plans.”