Lewis trust could lose up to £2.5million due to failed subsea cable

Stornoway power station with the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm in the background. Photograph: Sandie Maciver/SandiePhotos. NO F45 stornoway power station

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A community wind farm trust on Lewis faces losing up to £2.5million in lost revenue if it takes a possible 12 months to fix the failed subsea power cable between Skye and Harris.

There are now ‘grave concerns’ over Stornoway power station’s capability to maintain a steady and sustainable supply to the islands over the winter period.

The 33kV cable, which failed last month, is part of a line that carries power from the National Grid at Fort Augustus to the island network node at Stornoway.

Now that the imported supply to Lewis and Harris has failed, diesel stations at Battery Point and Arnish are having to work full time to keep the islands on supply.

SSEN confirmed that the cable fault was located 15km from land and at a water depth of 130m.  An on-site repair is not possible in these water depths and SSEN intends to replace the entire subsea cable, end-to-end – a length of some 32km.

SSEN is currently sourcing generator back-up sets at the Battery Point station to guarantee security of supply for island consumers and the company says there is no question of island blackouts while the on-island diesel stations are providing power.

However, early indications are that replacement of the subsea link could take up to 12 months due to procurement challenges with a cable of this length.

One of those affected is Point and Sandwick Trust which uses the income from its Beinn Ghrideag wind farm to support projects and organisations developing social, cultural, educational and environmental wellbeing.

Calum Macdonald, developer of the wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag, said: ‘We haven’t been able to produce any output since the cable went down and it now looks like we won’t be able to produce any output for up to 12 months, according to SSE.

‘That means we will not be earning any income over these 12 months. That obviously has serious consequences for the money we normally give out to the various organisations and projects that we support, so we will need to discuss with our beneficiaries and our stakeholders the situation and work out the best way forward for this difficult period.’

The trust’s annual total income from the wind farm is about £2.5million a year. If the outage is shown to be the result of an accident rather than wear and tear, then the trust can recover a maximum of five out the potential 12 months out from insurance.  If it was wear and tear, however, no insurance is payable.

Comhairle Leader, Councillor Roddie Mackay, recently met with senior representatives from SSEN.

Commenting afterwards, he said: ‘We will continue to press SSEN and others to ensure that this vital community income is safeguarded and, if necessary, compensated for.’

As well as Battery Point and Arnish Power Stations on Lewis remaining in operation for the duration of the fault, SSEN has also increased deliveries of fuel via sea tankers to the power stations, and is sourcing large back-up mobile generation sets.

Mark Rough, director of customer operations at SSEN, said: ‘We’d like to reassure our customers that our well-established resilience plans are in place to maintain power supplies to local homes and businesses as we source and install the new cable.’

Stornoway Community Council has now written to Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse, about the crisis  and copied in MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, MSP Alasdair Allan and Councillor Mackay.

The letter states: ‘We have grave concerns over the power station’s capability to maintain a steady and sustainable supply to the islands over the winter period and would appreciate assurances from SSE and all parties concerned that this is achievable.

‘The island systems will be at the mercy of the weather, especially over the winter period, and will have no back-up should any of the diesel engines go down or if there is any break in local power lines, transformers etc.

‘Then there is also the matter of all the community wind farms that have been set up on the island. They face the sudden loss of all their income for many months, potentially a year, due to the nature of insurance and liability on matters such as this.

‘That will have a catastrophic impact locally due to the amount of money they generate for good causes.’