Islands back on grid after underwater cable fault

Work under way to fit the deep sea electricity cable linking Jura to the mainland

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Electricity supplies for more than 3,000 residents across Jura, Islay and Colonsay are once again coming from the national grid four months after a fault developed on an electricity cable more than 260 feet underwater.

For islanders it meant facing winter weather reliant on local renewable projects and Islay’s fossil fuel-dependent Bowmore Power Station, commissioned in 1946.

Plans for an end-to-end replacement cable running 5.1 miles between the Sound of Jura and neighbouring Tayvallich on the mainland were drawn up.

Teams from Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) were involved but the project was not without its challenges.

An application was lodged with the Scottish Government for a special licence to work across a heavily-protected area and the project was dependent on the right sea conditions for three days during winter.

Then came a trio of storms – Brendan, Ciara and Dennis – and just as the weather settled, alarm bells over coronavirus started to sound.

But the multi-million project was completed last week, which will no doubt lead to sighs of relief from islanders and energy bosses.

The project was made possible with support from Easdale-based Specialised Marine Support Ltd (SMS).

It provided four vessels to support the engineering feat, including the ‘delicate’ task of transporting cable and the transfer of crew.

Core to SMS’s involvement was its 13.5m RIB called the Celtic Guardian. It was designed by Duncan MacGregor of Camarc, Dunoon; built by Edwin Payne of boat builders AluTech, Barcaldine, with electronics provided by Dave Simcox of Electrotech Marine Limited, Oban.

Official documents submitted to Marine Scotland show the formal application also requested permission to use a 200-metre-long cast iron pipe weighing eight tonnes and 400 tonnes of rock filter bags to ‘stabilise’ the cable.

Mark Rough, SSEN’s director of customer operations, said: ‘We thank the community and local businesses for their patience and support as our teams worked on this essential cable replacement project.

‘I’d like to thank everyone involved from our sub-sea teams, contract partners and renewable generators to colleagues working on the islands, Bowmore Power Station and our control room.’

Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, added: ‘SSEN and its partners have done a tremendous job restoring the link despite appalling weather delaying the operation for a considerable time.

‘Their commitment to ensuring the islands are connected has been total even though it has involved laying a new cable at considerable cost. They have also been good at keeping the communities and elected representatives informed. I am sure everyone is grateful to them. Everyone hopes it will never happen again.’