PLANS for a subsea electricity cable linking Shetland to the mainland – which would allow new wind farms on the islands to export renewable power to the rest of the UK – have been provisionally approved.

However, there was an angry reaction from Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil when it emerged that energy regulator Ofgem looks set to reject a similar scheme for the Western Isles, opting instead for one with a smaller capacity.

The Shetland project would consist of a single 600MW subsea circuit from Kergord on Shetland to Noss Head in Caithness, connecting into the Caithness-Moray transmission link recently completed by Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN). It is estimated the link, which would also help ensure security of supply on the islands, would cost around £709 million and would be completed in 2024.

Ofgem is now consulting on approving the link subject to SSEN demonstrating, by the end of the year, that the Viking Energy Wind Farm project planned for Shetland has been awarded subsidies through the UK Government’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction. SSEN managing director Colin Nicol said: “Ofgem’s decision to provisionally approve SSEN’s 600MW proposed transmission link is an important milestone in connecting Shetland to the mainland electricity network and helping to unlock its significant renewables potential. There are still a number of steps to be taken before we can proceed with the transmission connection and we will continue to engage with key stakeholders.”

SSEN is calling on Ofgem to reconsider its provisional decision on the Western Isles, suggesting the switch – which would lower the cost from £663m to £617m – would limit the potential for community schemes to benefit from renewables expansion.

SNP MP MacNeil said: “It would be a mistake to build 450MW instead of 600MW. It would mean that the project would be unlikely to go ahead in an area which has the strongest wind resource in Europe. It is clear from all the developers that 450MW is not in the real world and the extra cost of adding a further 33% to the capacity would only add 7% to the cost.”