THE REMOTE island community of Fair Isle could have a guaranteed 24-hour power supply for the first time if a proposed new £2.65 million electricity system gets the go-ahead.
Fair Isle Electricity Company has already successfully applied for £1.3 million of funding from the Scottish Government’s EU-supported Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme for the project, which would feature three 60kW wind turbines and a 50kW solar array.
Director Ian Best said the new scheme would improve the “quality of life” of residents by providing more reliable and stable power across the three-mile long island.
On Wednesday, Shetland Islands Council’s development committee will vote on whether to approve contributing £250,000 towards the project, which is expected to start construction next year if planning consent is achieved.
Since the 1980s, Fair Isle – located 24 miles south of the Shetland mainland – has been powered by two on-island turbines and two diesel generators.
However, the 60kW and 100W turbines have both been out of action for the last year due to technical problems and a lightning strike.
The new scheme, which would also include battery storage, would also extend a high voltage network to the north of the island to enable grid connections to the Scottish Water treatment works, Fair Isle Bird Observatory, the airstrip and the North Haven harbour.
Best said the idea to revamp the power scheme has been one of the main issues raised by the island’s residents over the last number of years.
“We did a lot of work a few years ago about getting together a community development plan, and upgrading our power scheme was one of the main things in it, as well making it island-wide and to cut down on the amount of generators needed,” he said.
“We’ve identified that it’s a very worthwhile project, to have more stable power.”
The scheme is currently in the process of securing full funding for its estimated cost of £2,651,026.
The Big Lottery Fund has been approached in the hope to raise a further £600,000 while Scottish Water will stump up £208,000.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise have confirmed it will give up to £250,000 to the project and other sources, such as Fair Isle owners National Trust Scotland and Fair Isle Bird Observatory have been contacted.
The community led Fair Isle Electricity Company will use £20,000 of its own funding to put towards the scheme.
Best added that having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people to live in Fair Isle, as well as benefiting its current 55 residents.
“I think it would be a very key part of the jigsaw of getting folk to move. We’re working quite hard on the island to develop our infrastructure, and power is a big part of that,” he said.
“But it also secures the people you’ve got. If you’re got older folk, it’ll be nice for them to have the power whenever they need it. It’s about quality of life as well.”
On days without wind, the power is turned off overnight between 11.30pm and 7.30am.
The company’s Robert Mitchell said the development would have a “massive impact” on the community.
“It will improve the whole infrastructure of the island immensely. It can only be the right step forward,” he said.
“The island has suffered for years from population decline, so we have to do something about it.”
A tariff of 16p/kWh for domestic customers and 28p/kWh for commercial sites has been suggested to allow Fair Isle Electricity Company to raise funds to put towards future refurbishment.
Compared to a diesel-only electric supply in Fair Isle, the new scheme would save an estimated 330-404 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. It would also mean less fuel would needed to be shipped to the island.
Part of the planning application will see an Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken this year, as well as a bird survey.
Fair Isle last year starred in a two-part BBC documentary and its unique electricity network was a pivotal point of the show, with locals of all ilk seen clubbing together to lower one of the existing turbines to repair it.
However, it seems that laborious, hands-on task may become a lot less stressful for the community if the new turbines get the green light.
“It is quite a big piece of kit, and it was quite a big undertaking,” Best said.
“The new ones have a built-in method of lowering them down, so hopefully that will make taking them down an easier operation.”