Eco-power plan to boost islands link

AN AMBITIOUS plan to build a fixed link between Harris and North Uist could cost up to £145 million and would be paid for using profits from renewable energy devices, it has been revealed.

Western Isles Council wants to bridge the five-mile wide Sound of Harris to bring both transport and green energy benefits.

It has envisaged using wave or tidal-power devices built into new structures, with the electricity sold to the grid, to help offset the cost within 50 years.

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A study, to be discussed by councillors next week, says the project is feasible and could largely pay for itself. But it questions whether the Sound is deep enough for wave devices and says there are limited areas where tidal technology could work. Instead renewable energy could be generated by a mix of devices including offshore wind turbines.

The plan is one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever proposed in the Western Isles. A fixed link between Harris and North Uist could have a roadway built on top and be the final part of a transport network through the Western Isles which would allow drivers to travel 130 miles from Eriskay to the Butt of Lewis by road, the so-called spinal route.

A report from consultants Jacobs-Babtie says that while the ferry across the Sound of Harris is seen as a tremendous asset, it inevitably restricts business and leisure travel. A fixed link, it says, would give "queue-free, tide-free, timetable-free access" across the Sound.

It adds: "Combining the two aspirations of completing the spinal route and developing a renewable energy capability in the islands, it is clearly attractive to consider an integrated development that seeks to achieve both within a single project."

But it indicates the shallowness of the Sound of Harris is "an impediment to the widespread use of present tidal and wave technologies". It adds: "Deeper channels have been identified as more suitable for some of the emerging technologies, while others are not considered practicable even there."

It puts the cost of a basic fixed link at between 39 million and 75 million, with a link with renewable energy devices costing up to 145 million.

The cost could be offset because the energy can be sold at a profit provided a grid connection and sub-sea cable to export the energy can be secured. It is estimated the return from electricity sold could be 116 million to 133 million.

Jacobs-Babtie has suggested building a two-mile long causeway from Berneray to the tiny island of Killegray. A row of offshore wind turbines would be erected adjacent to the causeway.

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A bridge incorporating tidal generators would stretch across the relatively narrow Skaari channel from Killegray to Ensay with another bridge hopping over a small islet to land on the Harris mainland by Leverburgh. Fishing boats and yachts would still be able to navigate through the Sound with the height of the bridges raised and a possible wide opening through the middle of the causeway.

Martyn Tulloch, the council's head of energy and coastal zone, said: "This project could bring fantastic socio-economic benefits to the islands. But given the small population it would serve we could not fund it through traditional sources.

"We are aware the Sound of Harris can be shallow. It's great from one point of view in that waves from the Atlantic have dissipated a lot of energy by the time they have reached the Sound. On the other hand when we want to extract the electricity they produce that is not so good."