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Ofgem takes wind out of Orkneys power cable plan, say campaigners

Campaigners say project to build cable to send power from Orkneys into homes and businesses on mainland being needlessly blocked by Ofgem

An ambitious project to build a giant cable to send power from the Orkney Islands into thousands of homes and businesses on the British mainland is being needlessly blocked by energy regulator Ofgem, campaigners say. 

The cable, which is being proposed by FTSE100 giant SSE, could reduce Britain’s dependence on foreign supplies at a time when households face record price rises. 

The Orkneys are a hotspot for green energy projects and regularly produce more than can be used on the islands. Campaigners believe the cable would allow surplus energy to be delivered to the UK’s National Grid. 

Opportunity: Energy from the islands’ wind turbines could be fed to the British mainland

As a consequence, the huge rise in bills, which has been driven by global wholesale markets, could eventually be curbed because of increased UK supply. 

Ofgem has so far refused to sign off on the transmission cable. It argues SSE must prove the pipeline will pay off before it gives the green light, in order to reduce the risk of bill-payers being saddled with the costs if the project fails. 

Although the Orkneys already produce large amounts of green energy, Ofgem is insisting SSE proves it can generate significantly more before it will give the go-ahead. 

Projects that will deliver 100 megawatts of environmentally friendly power are already lined up, but the regulator has set a hurdle of 135 MW. Critics have branded that threshold ‘arbitrary’ and want Ofgem to scrap it. 

Advocates say wind and tidal developments in the Orkneys offer a clean, home-produced alternative to Russian gas. 

There are already thin cables running to the mainland. But they would be dwarfed by SSE’s 220MW interconnector, which would be enough to power 300,000 homes. Local politicians and experts claim there are more than enough new projects under way to allay Ofgem’s concerns – and that its reluctance could delay future investments. 

Neil Kermode, head of the Orkney Renewable Energy Forum, urged Ofgem to back the project, saying: ‘The chance of this cable being unused is pretty much nil. The 220MW cable is going to be quite small compared with what the islands could [eventually] deliver.’ 

SSE told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We consider the criteria for a new link to Orkney has now been met.’ The firm said it would continue talks with Ofgem. 

The MoS understands the company may consider building a second interconnector if energy generation developments continue to progress in the area. 

Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said the project would help ‘wean us off the reliance on Russian gas and Saudi Arabian oil and we would have cheaper energy and from a reliable source’. 

He added: ‘This is something that Ofgem should have seen 20 years ago, but either didn’t or were so dazzled by the big oil and gas companies that they chose to ignore it.’ 

An Ofgem spokesman said: ‘We will assess all intelligence provided to us, and remain committed to publishing our updated view on the Orkney Transmission project in due course.’

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