No UK Grid connections for Orkney, Shetland, and Western Isles until 2020 at earliest, SSE tells MPs

Orkney Renewable Energy Forum seeks new inter-connectors to UK to export excess reneweable energy
Orkney Renewable Energy Forum seeks new inter-connectors to UK to export excess reneweable energy

Scottish and Southern Energy – the Perth-based utility giant – has told MPs that there will be no connections to the UK grid from Scotland’s ‘energy isles’ until 2020 at the earliest.

Andrew Huthwaite, the transmission development director at SSE –  which builds and maintains Grid infrastructure in the Highlands and Islands – said it ‘depended on getting regulatory approval’

He was giving evidence yesterday in Edinburgh to MPs on the House of Commons’ Committee on Scottish Affairs – which is currently carrying out an investigation into the electricity and renewable energy industries in Scotland.

Huthwaite said: “The earliest we are feasibly looking at for mainland UK Grid connections is by December 2020 for the Western Isles, by March 2021 for Shetland and by 2022 for Orkney.”

These three main Scottish island groups are informally known as the ‘energy isles’ due to their vast renewable energy potential.

Margaret Ferrier, SNP MP for Rutherglen, asked; “Orkney currently suffers from a lack of grid connections to the UK mainland grid. What is being done to resolve this?”

Huthwaite replied: “From an SSE network perspective, we do try to provide a route to market for renewable generators and to get regulatory approval. But we have to present an economic case to justify the expenditure <on new grid infrastructure>.”

Ferrier asked if SSE had met renewable generators on the islands, to which Huthwaite replied that they hold meetings with the Orkney Renewable Energy Forum and have bilateral agreements with local generators.

Ferrier further asked: “Will SSE commit to building grid links to Orkney?”

Huthwaite replied: “Yes – if we can make the economic case for investment.

Chris Law, SNP MP for Dundee West, then remarked that Orkney is already generating 110% of its electricity supply needs from renewables. Huthwaite replied: “Yes, that is a clear signal <for investment in transmission> but we need the developers to underwrite the costs of building connectors to the UK mainland.”

MPs then turned the question of regulatory approval for grid investment to Kirsti Berge, the head of OFGEM (the UK regulator) in Scotland, who said: “The issue over Grid links to Orkney is for the UK Government to decide. It’s not a matter of ‘Scotland v England’.”                                                                                                .”

Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Energy Minister, commented: “The issue of Grid links to the Orkney isles is a huge opportunity being missed for the rest of the UK, as well as Scotland – as well as being one which has major potential supply-chain benefits across the UK.

As well as Grid transmission connectors to the Scottish islands, MPs also raised issues relating to:

  • Scottish wind turbine / tidal turbine manufacturing
  • Security of electricity supply
  • UK Grid transmission costs, and
  • Community energy


Security of supply

MPs put forward a number of questions about security of supply and the possibility that greater use of renewable energy to generate electricity could result in a greater risk of power cuts because of intermittency – ie when the wind doesn’t blow and the wind doesn’t shine.

In reply, Phil Sheppard, Director, SO Operations at National Grid, said he was ‘confident in the demand forecasting’ systems deployed to balance supply with demand.


Transmission Costs

MPs asked for a ‘layman’s explanation’ of the charging system applied by OFGEM to electricity generators. Admitting that ‘it is complicated’ Kirste Berge charges were set at levels to be ‘cost-reflective based on the location of the <power>”

Peter Wishart, (SNP MP for Perth and Perthshire) Convenor of the Scottish Affairs Committee, commented: “I still find the explanation of OFGEM transmission charges both bewildering and byzantine because Scotland will always be disadvantaged by this <location> issue.”


Scottish wind turbine / tidal turbine manufacturing industry

MP Chris Law raised this issue with the Scottish Energy Minister, regretting the fact that Scotland had lost out in the wind turbine manufacturing sector to Germany and Denmark.

Minister Paul Wheelhouse; “Regrettably, the ‘dash for gas’ in the 1980s deprived industry of resources to develop turbine manufacturing capabilities in the UK.

“Even more regrettably, the same could now apply all over again to the tidal turbine and marine energy sector – which would be a major ‘own’goal’.


Community energy

The Scottish Government has an aspiration to have 1-GW of community renewable energy capacity installed by 2020 and 2GW by 2030, said Mr Wheelhouse.

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