SSE consults on burying subsea cables to Shetland’s isles

Electricity giant SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) is to launch a public consultation on burying subsea cables to islands off the Shetland Mainland, which could mean a price rise to users.

A cable being laid from the Shetland Mainland.
A cable being laid from the Shetland Mainland.

Until now, cables have been laid on the surface of the seabed but in future this may have to be changed.

This follows the adoption in March last year of the National Marine Plan (NMP) for all activities in Scottish waters out to 200 nautical miles to achieve “clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas”.

The plan covers submarine cables throughout Scotland, which are at present laid directly on the seabed but may have to be protected, requiring “significant expenditure”.

This cost will have to be paid by customers in the Scottish islands and across the north of Scotland, and should see bills rise.

The programme of protecting the cables, which could see them being buried for part or all of their length – not all cables need to be protected “end to end” –  is a rolling one which will come into force when cables need to be replaced.

One third of all Scottish island cables are replaced every eight years, and usually happens when they have been in place for 30 to 40 years.

The branch of SSE which deals with cables is SHEPD, which proposed to spend £44 million over the next eight years on replacing 112 kilometres of submarine cables.

That figure was based on surface laying. But the new rules mean that if the whole length was to be protected it would cost £300 million.

In Shetland, it has already been agreed that the cable from Lerwick to Bressay will be buried 15 metres under the seabed. Burying cables requires the use of specialist vessels and equipment.

Other cables due for replacement are between Yell and Unst, where two would be replaced, and across Yell Sound, between Mossbank and Yell, where there are two cables, one of which would be replaced.

The cost of installing protected cables would mean an increase on the part of the electricity bill which covers distribution, which at present accounts for 16 per cent of the bill.

Although there would be an expense in protecting cables, there would be an eventual saving to SSE in costs of damage to cables caused by boats, or abrasion by weather. Protected cables should mean greater reliability and SSE aims to get as many cables protected as possible.

The public consultation is being carried out in response to the NMP. It will focus on the impact on customers and fuel poverty, the environment and “users of the marine environment” such as the fishing industry.


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • January 22nd, 2016 13:20

    More interference from outside without any hint of joined up thinking.

    If our wise authorities had the wit and the gumption, submarine cables to the isles could be ducted through fixed road links – tunnels – at a fraction of the cost of even laying them on the surface of the seabed, never mind burying them.

    Assuming the reported costs and my arithmetic are accurate, at nearly £3 million/km, those savings, alone, could punch a sizeable hole in the cost of tunnelling – and they would be on top of savings from the ferry operations.

    As stated, joined up thinking is essential, which would come naturally to an autonomous Shetland government but not, it seems, under the present arrangements.

    • Allen Fraser

      • January 23rd, 2016 16:30

      Further savings on tunnel costs could be recovered by utilising the ground source energy from the tunnels.
      Geothermal tunnel lining energy recovery projects have been successfully used in road tunnels in Europe by extracting surrounding geothermal heat and heat from traffic in the tunnel.

  • Ian Tinkler

    • January 22nd, 2016 14:40

    The Viking Energy Interconnector, 345 Km long at £3 million/km. If my maths serves me, £1035 million!! Try that one on our electricity bills. Maybe a few more cuts by the SCT and a review of the VE proposed money “spin”, no pun intended!!

    • Robert Sim

      • January 23rd, 2016 5:05

      Dash it all, Ian! If only you’d thought of these points during the debate!

  • Stephen Johnston

    • January 22nd, 2016 23:11

    15 metres under the seabed, in Lerwick Harbour – surely not!

    • iantinkler

      • January 24th, 2016 10:03

      Perhaps they will be looking for oil or starting the Shetland to Australia “Great SSE/Shetland tunel company”. Just need to partner up up with The Charitable Trust, another little money earner, loads of new company directors in the offing!

  • David Spence

    • January 23rd, 2016 11:40

    Correct me if I am wrong, but about 3 years ago the Scottish Office refused to finance an Interconnector Cable from the N/W Scotland going to the Hebrides because it was going to cost too much. I believe the figure of around £720 million was the estimated cost.

    Now, the distance from Shetland to mainland Scotland was 3 times the distance from the above mention distance, so a ball-park figure of around £2 billion could be the cost of an Interconnector Cable from Shetland to mainland Scotland?

    As well as this, I believe a figure of around £330,000 a year will be going to Her Majesty’s Treasury for a cable lying on the seabed from Shetland to mainland Scotland. Who will be paying for this as an annual fee?

    It seems the more you look into the VEP the more unattractive it is becoming.

  • iantinkler

    • January 23rd, 2016 16:21

    Robert Sim, only became public knowledge yesterday!!! Would have been a bit difficult, however Wills did at last admit VE may not happen. He blamed me, I was so flattered!! lol.

  • Wayne Conroy

    • January 24th, 2016 12:27

    In a time where fuel prices are dropping and customers are all getting overcharged for fuel by the big companies they want to raise prices to pay for burying their cables to save them money – “Although there would be an expense in protecting cables, there would be an eventual saving to SSE in costs of damage to cables caused by boats, or abrasion by weather.”

    Really? Why the price rise if it would save them money eventually? Am I missing something here?


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