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SSEN confident jobs will be retained once subsea cable replaces Lerwick Power Station

From eft to right - National Grid Shetland Link project director Daniel Angel, Ofgem head of electricity distribution Grant McEachran, Ofgem head of Scotland Kersti Berge, and SSE lead project manager Dan Pearson. Photo: Shetland News/Chris Cope.

CONCERNS over potential job losses from replacing Lerwick Power Station with a subsea cable to the Scottish mainland have been played down by those behind the proposal, who predict that employment levels will be “reasonably comparable” to existing levels.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott previously suggested that 25 people could lose their jobs with power station operator Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) once the building reaches the end of its life in 2020.

But speaking at the first of a series of public consultations in Shetland on the proposed 260km subsea cable, National Grid’s Daniel Angel said long term jobs would be created through a new control centre which will be built in the isles.

SSEN’s Dan Pearson added that the energy company hopes to redeploy staff in the new set-up.

The operator confirmed in June that a 60MW subsea cable is set to be laid between Caithness and Scalloway to replace the power station and connect the isles to the National Grid, while diesel back-up generators would be in place on the isles should there be problems with the connection.

If approval is granted, the new system is expected to be up and running by the end of 2020, with the power station operational until it is ready.

The estimated total cost of work undertaken by partners National Grid Shetland Link Ltd and Aggreko UK Ltd over the lifetime of the new project is £581.7 million, while SSEN will incur other costs in accommodating it onto its network.

The 67MW diesel-fired station, built in 1953, provides around half of Shetland’s electricity on an annual basis, with Sullom Voe Terminal’s own gas station meeting around 40 per cent of local demand.

Energy regulator Ofgem said the new proposal is expected to cost £188 million less over its 20-year lifetime than the back-up option, which was a replacement full duty diesel power station. SSEN proposed a new station in 2013 before being knocked back because it was felt the company had not explored other, more efficient options.

Four public consultations in the isles are being hosted by Ofgem on Wednesday and Thursday to allow people to find out more about the proposals.

The public meetings only relate to the cost of the plan, however, and not the solution itself.

At the first session at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick on Wednesday afternoon, around 30 people had stopped by in the first half an hour to have a look.

Angel, a project director for partners National Grid, moved to quell fears over jobs by confirming that staff will be recruited to work in the new control centre.

He said that numbers will be “reasonably comparable” to existing levels.

“We’ll need operators in order to operate the link, and we’ll need to maintain it, and all of that is going to be centred here,” Angel said.

“We can’t be specific on numbers, because we’ve still got a fair bit of the process to go through. But we will be creating quality, engineering jobs within the industry here in Shetland.”

The first in a series of public consultations was held in Lerwick on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Shetland News/Chris Cope.

SSE’s lead project manager Pearson said the company has spoken to Scott on a number of occasions and he feels the MSP’s initial concerns have been allayed somewhat.

“Obviously the power station is operating and there are skilled people there,” he said.

“We don’t want to lose them. But we’ve got a three or four year period in which we can manage that transition… so we will try redistribute as much as we can the skill sets we have.”

The project has also seen concerns raised over having Shetland’s electricity needs served by a subsea cable.

Documents show that the back-up diesel station, which would have a maximum output of 66.2MW, would be stocked with enough fuel for 30 days usage.

Ofgem’s head of Scotland Kersti Berge stressed that the station would “provide a very strong back-up system in the unlikely event that there would be any issues with the link”.

Angel added that the cable could be buried under the seabed to ensure maximum protection, while the control centre would offer a 24-hour watch.

He said National Grid links to France and the Netherlands are comparable in distance.

“We’re pretty experienced – in fact we’re pretty much European leaders in this,” Angel said.

Shetland Islands Council’s development committee vice-chairman Stephen Leask was one of the first people through the doors on Wednesday afternoon.

He said one of his main concerns was losing focus from a long mooted 600MW interconnector which would allow large scale renewable projects like the Viking wind farm to export energy.

The power station replacement cable would be separate to the ongoing discussions on the interconnector project, which is thought to hinge on UK government support for onshore wind farms.

Research showed that the only time a new power station would have been more economic than the subsea cable was if the interconnector had been in place by the once-estimated 2021.

“What we’re looking at here is a perhaps on a smaller scale than what we need,” Leask said.

“We do need a 600MW cable coming in, so we get the import and the export and we can actually see a benefit for the economy and a benefit for jobs in Shetland.

“And we have to look at the environmental aspect for Shetland, because what we have is a serious pollutant in Lerwick.”

  • Further consultations will be held on Thursday at the Yell Leisure Centre from 9am to 11am and North Mainland Leisure Centre in Brae between 2pm and 4pm.