Robertson sorry over Foula problems
Shetland West councillor Frank Robertson has offered his “sincere apologies” to Foula residents who have been without permanent electricity for nearly 10 months.
Two households at the south end of the isle are affected, and have had to rely a privately-owned generator since a lightning strike in January led to damage to the main electricity cable.
Mr Robertson, who is on the Foula Electricity Trust, the body which oversees electricity for the isle, said: “It’s been a long, long process for those who have been without power for nearly a year.” He added that Foula was particularly prone to lightning strikes due to the westerly direction of weather.
Most of Foula has a 24-hour supply, but the residents who have not had this since January are losing patience with their situation, which they fear could go on for months.
They have been told the cable could be replaced before Christmas, but are sceptical.
Wullie Ratter, who has a young family, is now on his fourth generator. He supplies his 73-year-old neighbour with electricity and feels he has to be constantly on hand in case it breaks down.
He said: “I’m fed up, every night I have to get up at midnight and switch the generator off.” It has to stay on for as long as possible to supply power to his neighbour, Eric Isbister, who has suffered a stroke and now has a panic button, which needs power.
He added: “What happens if it breaks down when we’re away? It’s a nightmare, a constant worry.”
Mr Ratter, who is married with a young family, said the situation was particularly frustrating because he has been building his own house – and needs a reliable electricity supply, which depends on the cable being renewed.
He said: “I’ve got a brand new house, I want a brand new cable.”
His wife Amy said: “A month ago they said it would be a month [till the cable would be replaced], but we’re expecting this [situation] to carry on well into the new year.”
Mr Isbister said: “It’s been nearly 10 months since they hoped to get it fixed, we’re getting fed up having no power, only the generator.
“It’s expensive to get fuel, and very inconvenient.” Although the cost of fuel had gone down, it was still over £90 for a 45-gallon barrel – previously it had been over £100, and he added: “It’s quite a lot for a pensioner.”
Mr Isbister uses a Tilly lamp for lighting, and has a gas cooker and peat stove. He is anxious that the cable is fixed as soon as possible, and said: “Hopefully it will be before Christmas but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Community councillor Jim Gear said the fault was in the 3,300-volt cable that goes to the transformer, and the delay was due to getting a report organised.
He said: “It took a while to get a report by a qualified engineer to state what the problem was.” Then the insurance company had to have the report to “mull over”, in order to pay out. The Foula Electricity Trust then had to put the replacement out to tender – the lowest one was a Lerwick company, which then had to be vetted by the insurance company.
However, the company subsequently withdrew the tender, but the insurance company then accepted the next lowest tender, which was from Malakoff. Mr Gear said: “The replacement cable has been ordered and will be installed by Malakoff.”
He said the delivery should be a “matter of weeks”, and he “certainly” hoped it would be before Christmas, bearing in mind the limitations of the weather.
He added: “It’s very frustrating for everyone concerned.
It took a long time to get an engineer to assess the cable damage. It’s part of the main high voltage cable, that’s why it’s such a problem.”
Regarding the damage, he said it had been difficult to locate: “We knew it was somewhere south of the transformer, but couldn’t tell how much damage there was, or whether any other equipment was damaged.”
Fortunately, it was just the cable, but the whole length between two transformers, 500 metres, had to be tested, was found to be damaged and had to be dug up.
Once the new cable is installed, it will have to be checked and reported on, then recommissioned.
The rest of the island has a 24-hour supply, thanks to two “very powerful” generators, which are part of the Foula Electricity Scheme, and which also supply the utilities – BT, the school, Scottish Water and the ferries.
The much-vaunted scheme, installed in 2011, was supposed to make the island the first in Shetland to be self-sufficient in electricity.
It comprised wind turbines, a hydro scheme and solar panels – but the latter are the only part of the Foula Electricity Scheme still working, according to Mr Gear.
He said the wind turbine towers are still standing, but the heads have been taken away for re-engineering, and the installing company Westwind, whose turbines have failed all over Scotland, is subject to a Scottish government investigation.
One turbine is due to be installed in Foula this winter as a test – Foula being classed as the most extreme environment in Scotland.
The computer-controlled hydro scheme has been subject to a number of software “glitches”, and is not operating at present.
Mr Gear said: “The solar panels continue to give trouble-free electricity and supply a bank of batteries. They are far and away the most reliable type of renewable here.”