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Energy / Impact on landscape will be minimal, SSEN assures community as major engineering works stop for Christmas

Track contraction work above Frakkafield. Photo: Shetland News

THE MAJORITY of the access tracks along the A970 built to enable the installation of the underground cable to connect Shetland to the Kergord substation and hence the national grid is not permanent and will be removed once the 132kV link has been completed, SSEN Transmission has confirmed.

For the last few months several separate civil engineering works have been progressing on both sides of the road with up to five sets of traffic lights along the route considerably slowing down the flow of vehicles.

Concern has been voiced as to the extent of the works and damage done to the landscape.

SSEN has now given more detailed information on the various projects that are being carried out.

The 22 kilometre Kergord to Gremista link, constructed to the west of the road, consists of a combination of overhead line and underground cabling.

It involves 4km of underground cabling from Gremista to connect with the start of the overhead line. From there approximately 12km of overhead line will continue in the direction of Kergord, before going underground again near Sandwater for the final 5km towards the Kergord substation.

Simultaneously, a new 33kV power distribution cable is being laid along the verge, mainly on the east side of the road. Once completed, this will eventually result in the removal of the old overhead lines in this area.

Meanwhile, a total of 11km of (mainly) temporary access tracks have been constructed to support the installation of the underground cable section, part of the 22km long Kergord to Gremista connection.

“These tracks are floated on top of the peat using a geothermic matting to minimise the impact and promote quicker regeneration of the peat and vegetation when the tracks are removed, the company said.

“Every effort is being made to limit our impact on the landscape wherever possible, and the temporary tracks will be removed, and the landscape reinstated once the underground cable installation works are complete,” a spokeswoman for SSEN Transmission said.

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The Kergord to Gremista connection consists of two 22km circuits. Photo: Shetland News

“We will retain some sections of access track for critical operational and maintenance requirements, ensuring that security of energy supply can be maintained on the connection.”

Once complete, teams will remove around 10km of these access tracks.

SSEN Transmission will however seek approval to retain around 700m of permanent track at Frakkafield.

The first access track is expected to be removed in spring 2024, and all temporary access tracks should be removed in 2025.

For the remaining overhead line works, a number of access tracks are being permanently retained for operational and maintenance access. These are:-

  • 100m of access track to terminal overhead line poles south of Sandwater Loch
  • 150m of access track for the terminal overhead line poles above Veensgarth
  • 2 x 50m of access track for the two terminal overhead line poles at the Tingwall ferry sign section
  • 2 x 200m of access track to overhead line poles at South Knowe of Bodwell

Pylons across restored peatland

Meanwhile an assurance has been given that erecting pylons across an area of restored peatland at Girlsta will be done as sensibly as possible.

It comes as government agency NatureScot expressed concern after becoming aware that the new overhead power line would be routed right across a peatland area that had recently been restored with public funds in 2020/21.

A spokesperson for its PeatlandAction programme said: “We recognise the need for the new electrical infrastructure to be put in place as part of SSEN’s ‘Shetland Renewables Connections Project’.

“However, we are concerned about damage to the site and, in conversation with the stakeholders involved, are currently reviewing the options available to resolve this issue.”

SSEN Transmission said work on building the overhead lines across the area of restored peatland would commence in early January.

Working with peatland restoration experts, the company said it hopes to be able to minimise the impact of the work “as much as possible”.

“We will be using low-impact all-terrain haaglund vehicles to access the work area, thus minimising the need for temporary access tracks in this sensitive area,” the spokeswoman said.

“Helicopters were also brought in to deliver materials to site, further minimising the use of machinery on the landscape.”

She added that overall construction work had been making good progress in recent months and that all traffic management measures have now been removed for the festive period.

“From 9 January, temporary traffic lights will be back in operation near Tingwall for SSEN Distribution’s 33kV underground cable work, as well as for three days at Veensgarth to allow teams to safely install a new access junction.

“As the sites are closing down in the run up to the festive season, we want to thank the local community and road users for their continued patience, and assure everyone that we’ll do all we can to minimise disruption and keep them fully informed when we resume work in 2024.”

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