Western Isles fear over wind power connection

An islands council claims a key part of the UK’s "green power" ambitions has been threatened by a decision to defer the laying of an electricity cable. The Western Isles Interconnector would link wind farms on the Hebrides to the National Grid on the mainland.

But a subsidiary of Scottish and Southern Energy has deferred the start of work on the cable saying its cost must be underwritten by developers. Islands authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has been frustrated by the move.

Council leader Angus Campbell said the comhairle was urging the UK government to invest in the connection and was considering raising the issue with the European Commission. He said: "Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) is profoundly disappointed, angry and frustrated with the delay in construction of the Western Isles Interconnector.

"If the UK and Scottish governments are to reach their renewables targets to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and to improve the security of our domestic electricity supply, then the massive resources around the Western Isles are required.

"If the Western Isles Interconnector does not proceed it will represent one the greatest renewable energy policy failings in recent times and will leave the UK government’s green aspirations in tatters." The comhairle had hoped to see the cable in place by 2013.

Electricity transmission company Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Limited (Shetl) has deferred the start of constructing the cable and at this stage said they were unable to confirm when, or if, it would go ahead. It said the cable’s cost must be underwritten by large companies planning renewable projects on the Western Isles.

Among these companies are Scottish and Southern Energy, which is awaiting planning permission for a wind farm on the Pairc estate, and Amec which is planning a wind farm south of Stornoway.

However, the wind power projects face uncertainty because of high electricity transmission charges. These are being investigated by Ofgem which will report before next summer. Shetl has missed the deadline for ordering the cable to have it operational by the October 2013 target date.

In 2008, a bid for a 181 wind turbines wind farm on Barvas Moor in the north of Lewis was turned down by the Scottish government. The comhairle saw the wind energy project as an important generator of jobs and investment.

Uncertainty over the interconnector is the latest twist to trouble Scotland’s renewable energy ambitions. Last month, the future of a wind turbine manufacturer which received millions of pounds from the Scottish government to safeguard jobs was thrown into doubt.

The Danish company Skykon, which took over the Vestas wind turbines factory on Kintyre last year, announced it was suspending payments to its creditors. A total of 120 people are employed at the Machrihanish site just outside Campbeltown.

Construction company Rok has also gone into administration. It has contracts to extend Skykon’s wind energy factory at Machrihanish and upgrade facilities at Arnish, a yard at Stornoway used for constructing wind turbine.

First Minister Alex Salmond has said contingency plans were in place to help the Kintyre economy in light of the difficulties facing Rok and Skykon.