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Meygen Project Stuck In The Planning Process

12th July 2019

At present, electricity generated from the four existing sub-sea tidal stream turbines at its MeyGen site, in the Pentland Firth's Inner Sound between 1 mile and 1.5 miles off Gills Harbour, is not fed directly into the UK National Grid network.

It is sent instead by a specially-built underground cable from the MeyGen onshore site at Ness o' Quoys, Canisbay, to the small electricity sub-station at Hastigrow, Bower, from where it is distributed to local households, farms and other NE Caithness business users via SSE's 'Local Distribution Network'This has a limited capacity..

For the roll-out of the entire 398 MW MeyGen project ... that CEO Tim Cornelius correctly states will have 50% more generating capacity than Dounreay's Prototype Fast Reactor had before its 1994 shut-down ... the electricity is intended to be sent to the Grid from the major new already-named Gills Bay substation, that SSE intends to build at Philip's Mains, East Mey. This will also receive power from Greencoat UK Wind plc's plant at Stroupster on the south side of the Gill Burn valley, near Freswick.

From there the power will be transmitted by mainly overhead wires to the sub-station at Geise, just South of Thurso and onward from there into the main UK Grid. At least part of this output may then go via the new £1.6 billion HVDC sub-sea line under the Moray Firth from Caithness to a location near Keith in Moray.

However, early last year, The Highland Council refused planning consent for the combined Gills Bay sub-station and the pylon-lines to Geise.

SSE stated this week, in a note to Mr Bill Mowat Gills Harbour Ltd's renewables infrastructure director, that it could give no indication about the timescale for progress as a local 'planning public inquiry' was anticipated, after the Scottish Government appointed official 'planning reporters' to investigate the major electricity-transmission project.

The reason for the refusal was stated to concern the siting of part of the overground section of the pylons-line; it included an official objection from the Castletown Community Council.

At the time of the planning application, the Dunnet & Canisbay CC was temporarily 'in abeyance' due to a ruling by the Highland Council about the ratio of 'appointed' members to that of elected community councillors, following the retiral of its two Dunnet-based office-bearers.

This was subsequently corrected by a Dunnet & Canisbay by-election that saw all seats filled by elected CC members, with a turn-out comparable to that usual in national by-elections.

The tidal generating company is exploring establishing 'private wire power purchase agreements' that would get round the problem if the Gills Bay sub-station and connecting pylon lines to Thurso are delayed for some time. There is only limited capacity to absorb extra power output at the existing Hastigrow sub-station.

Any such power agreements (PPAs) would either be for large-scale industrial or business users or for buyers clubbing together locally as a co-operative to purchase the part or all of the MeyGen electricity output.

Gills Harbour Ltd and Dunnet & Canisbay CC both favour outcomes that would see some of the tidal-stream electricity being used to attract new users or underpin existing businesses, perhaps by allowing those to diversify..

This is in an effort to create more jobs or employment opportunities locally; the present population of Dunnet & Canisbay is just over 30% of what it was in the early 20th Century, a fact that the above bodies regard as an 'anomaly'.

This is because of the booming populations of the Inverness catchment area to the South and the Faroe Islands and Iceland to the North.

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