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SIC agrees to give £250k to new scheme that could give Fair Isle round-the-clock electricity

Fair Isle residents are hoping to gain access to round-the-clock electricity for the first time.

SHETLAND Islands Council has agreed to put £250,000 towards a proposed new electricity scheme in Fair Isle which would see the remote island community have access to guaranteed 24-hour electricity for the first time.

It is hoped that following the council’s pledge at a development committee meeting on Wednesday, other potential backers – such as the Big Lottery Fund – will be more inclined to grant money towards the £2.65 million project.

The scheme would install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage as well as extend the grid to the north of the island.

SIC project manager Maurice Henderson told councillors that the new electricity development would bring “significant improvements” to Fair Isle, which has a population of around 55.

The project, led by the community group Fair Isle Electricity Company, has already successfully applied – in principle – for £1.3 million of funding from the Scottish Government’s EU-supported low carbon infrastructure transition programme.

Project manager Maurice Henderson.

The company is also applying for a £600,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund, while Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Water have also agreed to stump up nearly half a million pounds between them.

Councillor Amanda Westlake queried whether there was any indication if the lottery funding will be successful.

Henderson said the project has already been “very well received” by other funders and he suggested that a “Shetland commitment would strengthen their application significantly”.

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 past year due to technical problems and a lightning strike.

Following questioning from Shetland Central councillor Mark Burgess, Henderson confirmed that the local authority grant would come from its economic development fund.

While economic development manager Douglas Irvine said £250,000 would make a “significant dent” in its pot of money, he said the Fair Isle scheme fitted the remit of the fund well.

Council leader Gary Robinson added that it was a “relatively small amount of money in the bigger scheme of things” and said he had no difficulty in backing the proposal.

Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan spoke on the behalf of Fair Isle’s residents, saying islanders and former locals picked electricity as their biggest concern in a recent development plan survey.

He added that two new families are set to move to the Fair Isle soon, including one person who was brought up on the island.

As the development committee agreed to provide the funding, chairman Alastair Cooper said a reliable electricity supply could “transform” employment on the isles.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021