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Energy / Government approves plans for new overhead power lines

A visualisation of what the lines in the Central Mainland could look like. Image from SSE.

PLANS for new overhead power lines spanning a distance of 11.5km through Shetland’s Central Mainland have been given the go-ahead from the Scottish Government.

It is part of a wider SSEN Transmission project which aims to link Lerwick to Kergord as part of Shetland’s new energy set-up once the isles are connected to the national grid via a subsea transmission link and are producing large amounts of renewable energy.

Two 132kV overhead line circuits would run in parallel over the 11.5km distance, meaning that there is essentially more than 20,000 metres of line at play.

They would start near Veensgarth and finish just after the Nesting junction, largely following the route of the A970 road.

The lines would be on trident style poles, with a nominal height of approximately 11-17 metres – larger than power lines in Shetland at the moment.

A new 132kV transmission network is needed to provide Shetland wind farms with a connection to the grid. Electricity is currently distributed on Shetland via a 33kV distribution network.

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Underground cables will also be buried in different areas but this does not need planning consent.

The overhead lines plan had drawn significant concern from the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council due to the impact on residents, with members calling on more cables to be buried.

Campaign groups Sustainable Shetland and Save Shetland wrote to the energy consents unit against the plans.

In response to the approval Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall said she was “gutted on behalf of the local community” but not surprised they were given consent without being buried.

The development is required to connect a new grid supply point in Lerwick, and the planned Mossy Hill wind farm on the outskirts of the town, to a new 132 kV substation in Kergord. The grid supply point will enable Shetland’s power demand to be supplied through renewable generation.

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In its decision letter the government said: “The Scottish Ministers consider that the proposed development would therefore make a valuable contribution to wider ambitions for deployment of renewables and reinforcement of the network in the area.”

It added: “The Scottish Ministers have considered the environmental impacts including landscape and visual, peat and birds that the proposed development will have and are satisfied that it will not create any unacceptable effects.

Proposed overhead lines at the Veensgarth junction with the A970. Image: SSEN-Transmission

“Mitigation measures secured as conditions will reduce the impact of the development and the delivery of renewable electricity to the national grid is supported by Scottish Government policy, and Scottish Government policy weighs in favour of the proposed development.”

The government also said it would allow SSEN to comply with its statutory duty to develop and maintain an “efficient, coordinated and economical system of electricity distribution”.

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SSEN Transmission previously said the plans had “extensive local consultation which has helped shape the project’s design”.

Shetland Islands Council was a consultee and while it offered no objections, some elected members expressed concern at the visual impact of the poles.

Councillor Lyall said at the time that from a low level perspective some people will be “looking straight into a forest of poles”.

The energy company, however, says the cost of burying cables is far greater than installing them overhead.

It previously said that the reason behind having two circuits in parallel was to ensure that power can still flow if there is a fault or planned outage on one side.

It is expected that helicopters will be used to transport materials for the project to the site.

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It comes as construction continues on the 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm and the 600MW subsea transmission link which will connect Shetland to the  national grid for the first time. Both projects are due to go live in 2024.

Sustainable Shetland chairman Frank Hay said the approval of the overhead lines came as no surprise.

“It was obvious from the latest SSE/Viking brochure that consent was a foregone conclusion,” he said.

“Once again opinions of locals don’t matter. Another win for SSE and their shareholders.

“It is a great shame that yet another scenic area of Shetland is going to be industrialised in the name of, so called, green energy. SSE seem to get everything that they want in Shetland, thanks, in the main, to our compliant council, who could have objected to this.”

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