Island finally turns on to green mains Eigg-tricity

AS SWITCH-ONS go it will be rather unglamorous. But when the villagers of Eigg gather in the island's tea room at noon today it will herald an energy revolution for the Hebridean isle.

With no electricity connection to the mainland, the 83 islanders on Eigg have been reliant on noisy, costly and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators for their power.

But from today they will switch on to a new era, with supplies to all households coming from renewable sources.

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A 1.6 million project has seen three hydro-electric schemes, a four-turbine wind farm and a solar energy development created, all connected to a high voltage network via nearly seven miles of buried cables, to bring power to the island's 45 households, 20 businesses and six community buildings.

The practical effect of so-called "Eigg-tricity" is that islanders will be able to freely use electric toasters and kettles for the first time and watch TV whenever they like.

The green revolution is the latest advance made by the islanders since their purchase of Eigg in 1997 for 1.5 million, which put it back into community hands for the first time in 250 years.

John Booth, director of Eigg Electric, said: "This project is the culmination of ten years of achievement since the purchase of the island. Eigg Electric gives us the green light to our future."

Maggie Fyffe, secretary of the Eigg Heritage Trust, said: "The whole thing is just fantastic. We've been talking about it for years but no energy company was going to pay to put miles of cable under the sea.

"Up until now I've had a small hydro system but most of the time all it's been able to power was the equivalent of five light bulbs. So I could sometimes have lights, stereo, computer or telly but not all at the same time."

Eigg Electric commissioned Synergie Scotland to manage the project, which involves a 100kw hydro scheme at Laig and two smaller 6kw schemes at Kildonan and the pier; a 24kw wind farm at Grulin and a 10kw solar scheme at Glebe. The design and building contract was awarded to Scottish Hydro Contracting.

A battery storage system will compensate for short periods when energy from renewable sources is not available. Two 80kw diesel generators have been installed to provide emergency back-up and to supplement supply when necessary.

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Iain MacGillivray, managing director of Synergie Scotland, said: "We are delighted to have been involved with such a unique and technically challenging project, and we compliment the people of Eigg for their vision and determination to deliver a project with such a wide community benefit."

Financial support came from the European Regional Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, HIE Lochaber, Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company, the Big Lottery Fund, Scottish Community Household Renewables Initiative, the Energy Savings Trust, Highland Council and the Isle of Eigg Community Trust.

The only public money used was a 17,000 grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

The island is now run by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, which bought the island and is a partnership between residents, Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Over the past decade Eigg's population has grown by 25 per cent to 83, and from virtually no jobs there is now full employment.

The trust has set up companies to restore and build properties, develop forestry and heritage projects and help farming. It has also created new crofts, built new and improved houses, upgraded the community hall and installed broadband.


THE system will generate more than 95 per cent of the island's energy demand.

• HYDROELECTRICITY – a 100kW hydro scheme at Laig, and two 6kW schemes.

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• WINDPOWER – a 24kW wind farm of four 6 kW wind turbines on 15m masts.

• SOLAR ENERGY – a 10kW photovoltaic array of interconnected solar cells.

A battery storage system will compensate for short periods up to 24 hours where energy from renewable sources in unavailable.

Two 80kW diesel generators have also been installed for emergency back-up and to supplement the supply if necessary.