We had very productive discussions with Scottish Government ministers and our counterparts from other councils and organizations as part of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands, held in the Stornoway Town Hall on Monday 7th March.
Digital connectivity, fuel poverty and Europe were some of the main topics on the agenda, amongst others. It was very encouraging that an independent report, published on Monday morning, stated that ‘Scotland’s island economies could benefit from up to £725M over the next 25 years from renewable projects.’ This is exactly what we have been saying for many many years now – Scotland’s islands have fantastic renewable opportunities, however, we need the interconnector to make the most of these opportunities and the sooner we get it; the sooner our communities, and indeed the country, can start seeing the economic benefits.
On the same day a letter was sent to Amber Rudd MP from Fergus Ewing, Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, and the Leaders of Scotland’s 3 island authorities. In it, we referred to the delay in signing off on the State Aid application and the significant unrest that this has caused, particularly after it was stated last September that the process would take around two months to be concluded. Secondly, we emphasised that “an announcement about the next Contract for Difference (CfD) auction to be held at the end of 2016 will be critical to the delivery of the Prime Minister’s commitment to support island renewables. It is essential that the auction supports the associated connections to all three island groups.” The letter was copied to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell.
The next meeting of the Convention will be in the Highlands in October and it was agreed that OFGEM and the National Grid be invited to attend that meeting to discuss the fuel poverty issues which, as we are all acutely aware, are a particularly significant challenge for the Western Isles.
The Scottish Government’s press release following Monday’s meeting stated:
“With appropriate investment in grid infrastructure and generating assets, renewable energy development on the islands could grow rapidly by the early 2020s.”
That is our vision for these islands and we will continue to make the case to both Governments over the coming months in order to see that vision come to fruition.