Fuel Poverty

As is the case in Orkney and Shetland, fuel poverty is a significant and persistent issue across the Outer Hebrides with 36% of households in fuel poverty and 24% facing extreme fuel poverty. This is the highest figure in Scotland and far higher than the national average rates of 25% and 12% respectively. The high rates of fuel poverty are due to a combination of low incomes, high energy costs and inefficient domestic energy systems. The housing stock across the Outer Hebrides is largely comprised of houses built in the 1920’s, 50’s and 70’s and are either resistant to energy efficiency interventions or require levels of investment beyond the budgets of existing agencies. The harsh climates of the Outer Hebrides, with some of the highest windspeeds and rainfall levels in the UK, further exacerbate fuel poverty in the region.

The issue is well recognised in the region and emerged as a priority area of action during the RIPEET project, which brought energy stakeholders form across the Islands together to vision and plan for the future of the Outer Hebrides energy system. Local agency Tighean Innse Gall (TIG) have been providing energy advice and support to local communities for over 30 years and remain central to efforts to combat fuel poverty in the Outer Hebrides.

Grid Issues

At present, the Outer Hebrides are connected to National Grid by a Distribution Link which runs from the National Grid at Fort Augustus to Skye where it divides into two subsea links, one supplying Lewis and Harris and the other supplying Uist and Barra. The primary purpose of this Distribution Link is to supply electricity to island homes and businesses and, because its capacity falls short of peak island demand in winter time, on-island diesel generation at Battery Point / Arnish and at Lochcarnan has to be activated to top-up supply during these periods of peak demand.

For many years now, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and various local and commercial partners, have lobbied vigorously for a new Transmission Link to enable additional renewable development in the Outer Hebrides. The historic lack of export capacity has significantly constrained the growth of renewables in the region and proved a major barrier to harnessing the world class renewable resources across the Western Isles. Active Network Management systems were explored as a means of allowing development of new generation ahead of, or instead of, a new transmission link but were not found to be a feasible solution.

Following sustained lobbying and a number of crucial discussions with Ofgem, National Grid, and the Gas and Energy Markets Authority on 15 December, OFGEM published their finalised ‘Accelerated Strategic Transmission Investment’ Strategy (ASTI) which included a 1.8GW Transmission Link between Arnish and Beauly to be completed and operational by 2030. The case for a 1.8GW Transmission Link, comprises of a significant generation portfolio including 420MW of onshore wind, and 1,335MW of offshore wind committed to connecting though the Transmission Link. This marks a major development for the Outer Hebrides energy sector and will greatly increase the islands contribution to decarbonisation. The developments have potential to create several skilled green jobs, training and apprenticeship opportunities in renewable and lasting community impact though employment opportunities and provision of community benefits.

Community Energy

The Outer Hebrides has a vibrant, active and mature community energy sector with over 23MW of community owned energy generation across the region from Lewis in the North to Barra in the South. Seven community development trusts have successfully developed wind turbine projects which contribute over £2 million annually to local community projects and economies. Alongside these revenue generating projects there are several communities who have developed sustainable community buildings or supported local residence with domestic energy advice and support.

This activity has made the Outer Hebrides a national leader in community energy and their members have shared learnings and guidance with numerous groups around Scotland and the United Kingdom. Many community groups continue to engage with energy development across the Western Isles by representing their communities in planning and strategy development and exploring new innovative energy projects in the region.