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Energy / Ofgem gives final approval for subsea interconnector

Plans for the cable taken from a booklet given out by SSEN in 2016.
The route of the planned subsea cable linking Shetland to the Scottish mainland. Image: SSE

ENERGY regulator Ofgem has announced its final approval of the 600MW interconnector which will allow large wind farms on Shetland to export power to the Scottish mainland.

It said it was now satisfied that the Viking Energy wind farm is likely to go ahead – fulfilling a condition of approval set earlier this month.

Ofgem conditionally approves interconnector

In June SSE Renewables confirmed it would be putting £580 million into the Viking Energy wind farm, while a contractor for its construction was announced earlier this week.

The 600MW cable, which would run from Caithness to Weisdale Voe, is expected to be in operation in 2024. It would allow power to flow both ways.

Writing about the condition of approval for the cable, which is proposed by Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission (SHE-T), Ofgem said: “We have now reviewed and considered the evidence submitted in relation to the condition.

“We consider that the evidence submitted confirms that final investment decision has been reached for Viking Energy Wind Farm and that this has been taken at appropriate levels of governance.

“We are comfortable that the evidence submitted confirms that a major supply contract has been entered into by Viking Energy Wind Farm, which represents a significant amount of the overall project development spend. We consider that this indicates project commencement.”

Ofgem said its next step is to undertake a project assessment of the Shetland transmission project from summer 2020 to “determine SHE-T’s permitted costs for delivery”.

“Following our project assessment consultation and any subsequent decision, we will consult upon the relevant output and final allowances associated with the Shetland transmission project ahead of implementing these into SHE-T’s electricity transmission licence through a licence modification,” the regulator added.

Ofgem said it received over 180 responses to its recent consultation on the cable project – with most not agreeing with its previous position of being ‘minded to’ approve the transmission link.

But it said it saw “no reason to move away from our minded-to position”.

It received 127 responses, predominantly from Shetland residents, that raised concerns specifically in relation to the Viking wind farm.

“These responses highlight that some Shetland Isles residents strongly object to the development of onshore wind generation projects in general and Viking Energy Wind Farm in particular,” Ofgem added.

“We acknowledge the concerns expressed by the residents who responded to the consultation; however, as set out in our April 2020 consultation, we do not design or plan where generation should be sited.

“The development and decisions on the design and location of generation is undertaken by the generation project developers in accordance with planning requirements.

“Planning considerations for generation projects are matters for the relevant planning authorities, including in this case the Shetland Islands Council. We also do not design new transmission projects, plan how they should be built, or decide which routes they should take.”

In response to proposals for a LNG gas fired power station, which were submitted in the recent consultation, Ofgem said it does not consider the idea to be the “most economic and efficient outcome for GB consumers”.

Frank Hay of anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland said the islands have been “sacrificed on the altar of so-called green energy”.

“The responsibility for this whole sorry tale sits squarely at the door of Shetland Islands Council whose councillors have dismally sat back and allowed this to happen. What a legacy to leave for future generations of Shetlanders,” he said.

“One of Britain’s largest windfarms dominating what was once a beautiful landscape and ruining the environment for in, in particular, residents of Aith, Weisdale and Nesting.

“There may well be a sting in the tale for this crazy project as the hills of the Central Mainland may well prove very difficult and expensive to exploit. We don’t think that this project has been properly thought through.

“Shetland has been sacrificed on the altar of so called green energy. Sadly this an example of the drive towards  green energy going badly wrong with money now becoming the prime objective.

“It is also a matter of some concern that hundreds of workers are now likely to descend on these islands as the recent pandemic still appears to be active in some areas. Not that this is likely to worry SSE, who have shown little regard for locals so far.”

Ofgem’s decision report can be found online.