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New poles will play a vital “supporting role” in £10m upgrade to Islay’s electricity network

09 Mar 2023

SSEN Distribution, as part of SSE plc, delivers power to millions of homes and businesses across the North of Scotland and central Southern England.

As part of its £10m project to upgrade the electricity network on Islay - making the island’s infrastructure more resilient and less susceptible to power cuts – teams will be building nearly 30km of new overhead line, with 292 new poles set to play a vital “supporting” role.

Every pole has been given a number to indicate its position along the route, as well as being cut to a specific length to make sure the overall line has an aesthetic visual flow when viewed from afar.

And in addition to the new overhead infrastructure, Islay is also getting 12km of new underground High and Low Voltage cable, and a raft of new technology across the island’s substations at BowmorePort Askaig, Port Ellen and Knocklearoch.

While the upgrade work will go a long way to reducing the potential for power cuts, there may still be occasions when a fault develops, or when storms may damage infrastructure, and with this in mind the work that SSEN is doing will enable engineers to restore supplies much more quickly, and minimise disruption for customers.

When the new overhead line is complete, the electricity network on Islay will be a complete loop for the first time - this will make a huge difference on the rare occasions there is a power cut, as it will allow SSEN’s Control Centre engineers to temporarily re-route the affected supplies so that these customers are fed from a different part of the network, minimising the time they are off supply before the necessary repairs are carried out.

SSEN Distribution and their principal contractor, Keltbray, set up a temporary project base at Ballygrant Quarry, where the poles were initially delivered and fitted with their cross arms (the metal bars which hold the lines) and signage.

Barry MacTaggartSSEN’s Project Manager, tells us more about the work that has been going on behind the scenes and the ways in which SSEN is minimising the environmental impact of building the new overhead line:

“By using a helicopter to deliver these new poles along their 30km route, we’re avoiding the need for lorries to cross the scenic, uninhabited, parts of Islay where there are no existing roads or tracks.

“As every pole was fitted with its cross arm and other livery before the helicopter picked it up and took its position on the route, this means that when colleagues go out to erect the poles, they only have to take the minimum amount of tools with them; they can also travel in smaller vehicles fitted with tracks rather than wheels – all of which minimises the environmental impact of our essential works.”

SSEN’s Head of Large Capital Delivery, Donald MacKinnon, explains more about the overall project and the benefits it will bring to homes and businesses on Islay:

“We’re committed to delivering a safe, secure and reliable supply of electricity to all our customers across Islay - this £10m investment covers a wide range of infrastructure upgrades and installations, all of which will bring a major boost the island’s network.

“From the new overhead lines to the automated equipment we’re installing in all four of Islay’s primary substations, everything we’re doing is designed to not only make the electricity infrastructure more robust and therefore less susceptible to power cuts, but also more flexible and adaptable, so we can restore supplies more quickly on the rare occasions the power is off.

“When it’s completed in June 2024, all of this work will help upgrade the network for not just our existing customers, it will also ensure the reliability of power supplies across the island for many years to come.”