Scottish energy, connectivity and islands minister Paul Wheelhouse was due to formally launch Fair Isle’s new £3.5 million renewable power scheme this afternoon (Friday), but windy weather put paid to his trip.
Highlighting the fragility of the island, it is expected that no-one will be able to get in or out of Fair Isle until Monday when flights should resume.
However, the 55-strong local community is still set to celebrate the official launch of the system later today, which has already been switched on for the last couple of weeks to allow any teething problems to be fine-tuned.
The new system consists of three new 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage capable of holding 50 hours of power, while it will also extend a high voltage network across the island.
The three-mile long island has used a combination of wind and diesel power since the 1980s, but it had been lights out between 11.30pm and 7.30am on nights when wind turbines weren’t operating.
The two existing turbines had also suffered technical problems, with one ultimately shutting off completely, while there was no capacity for any new customers.
The new energy system has been led by Fair Isle Electricity Company, which secured funding from a range of bodies including the Scottish Government, Highlands and Enterprise and Scottish Water.
Other funding sources included Shetland Islands Council and the National Trust for Scotland, which owns Fair Isle.
At its most basic level, it means islanders needing to nip to the toilet during night may no longer need to stumble through the dark or put on a torch.
There are hopes that people will be more attracted to move to Fair Isle, which is located between Shetland and Orkney, thanks to the reliable electricity supply.
Fair Isle Electricity Company director Robert Mitchell reiterated that the new system will also cut a reliance on using diesel, which had to be shipped to the island by boat.
“As an important project in a fragile rural area, it will make a huge difference now and in the future and we hope that it will encourage more people to come and live on the island. It also provides a great opportunity for more businesses to start here,” he said.
“The new energy system will be cleaner and greener and will reduce reliance on expensive diesel, hence making living costs more sustainable. It’s an ambitious project and is another step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”
Mitchell added that the new system should also mean facilities like the airstrip will be able to have a power supply for the first time.
While MSP Wheelhouse was unable to set foot on Fair Isle, he did comment that having round the clock electricity is something most people take for granted.
“The reality of having, for the first time in their history, 24-hour supplies of electricity presents exciting prospects for the Fair Isle community, who will not only benefit from access to a reliable electricity supply around the clock, but also now have in place a new cleaner, greener energy system,” he said.
“This development is yet another example of Scotland’s ability to harness its renewables potential to build a sustainable energy future which will play a significant role in powering our future, and I am proud of the role that the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been able to play in providing 50 per cent of the funding for this much needed project taken forward by Fair Isle Electricity Company.”
The project was kickstarted in 2014 after Scottish Water launched a feasibility study as it explored how to meet the future energy needs of the island’s water supply.
Scottish Water’s chief operating officer Peter Farrer said the project “marks a new chapter in Fair Isle’s remarkable energy story, harnessing the island’s sustainable resources more effectively than ever before”.
“Scottish Water’s investment will also play a vital part in ensuring that we can continue to provide clean, fresh, great-tasting water to our island customers’ taps, long into the future – for the same low price all over Scotland and with a reduced impact on the environment,” he added.
South mainland councillor Robbie McGregor, meanwhile, said he was “absolutely thrilled” for his Fair Isle constituents.
“I’m absolutely delighted that they now have an electricity service without a cut off in the evening,” he said.
“This will benefit the tourist industry and the development of the community.”
With the new electricity scheme expanding connections through the island, it is also good news for the rare buildings in Fair Isle which already had power through the night.
The Fair Isle Bird Observatory, which was built in 2010 and contains a guesthouse, already had its own electricity thanks to diesel generators but it is now connected to the island system for the first time.
Scottish Greens’ Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating the community on the new system.
“The community of Fair Isle deserve immense credit for the work they have undertaken in recent years to deliver this project,” he said.
“Reliable, 24-hour electricity, across the whole island will present significant economic and social benefits. It was my pleasure to commend the residents in a parliamentary motion.”