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June 5, 2013

Islanders Muck their own energy

Island communities with no connection to the national grid have a stark choice to make when it comes to energy – either put up with noisy generators, paraffin lamps and candles or construct an off grid system of energy generation and supply.  The Isle of Eigg blazed the trail in this regard and others have followed suit.  Last week, neighbouring Muck finally flicked the switched on their own unique island energy system. Community Energy Scotland share some insights into how it all came about.


Community Energy Scotland

The big official switch–on for the Isle of Muck Electrification Scheme took place on Wednesday the 29th of May. Community power on Muck has taken a leap forward with the successful installation of new wind turbines and solar photovoltaics which now provide almost all the electricity and heat needed on the island.
Community Energy Scotland’s Manager in the West Highlands, Rab Lees was asked some direct questions about the scheme.
So where is Muck and why is it important?
Muck is a small island, just 1700 acres, like a large farm surrounded by sea, about 2 hours by ferry from the port of Mallaig.  There are around thirty islanders. The farm produces quality lamb and beef. Islanders welcome all visitors on day trips or for longer stays. Muck has a primary school and a new community hall. The hall is super-insulated, and the school is designed to take output from the island’s renewable electricity system.
So Muck is quite special?
Yes, it is one of Scotland’s special places.  Like the neighbouring Isle of Eigg, it will never have a cable linking it to the National Grid, so islanders need to generate their own power and run their own local electricity grid. Eigg has been doing it for a few years now and Muck is now doing the same. Muck is determined to sustain itself economically and retain a vibrant population.  The energy scheme is now part of the island tour. The islanders are happy to show and explain to tourists or visiting groups.
 So, why is a new electricity scheme on a small island so important Rab?
This new scheme is crucially important for the islanders on Muck who now have a reliable grid with generation from wind and sun, and storage in a battery bank.  This scheme shows what can be done to harness renewable energy and power-up a community’s needs for modern life.
You’d better give us the technical details – on the mainland we take the grid for granted
Well, the Muck scheme uses the output from six 5kW Evance wind turbines and 30kWp solar photovoltaic panels to give round the clock power. The battery system is state of the art and can store 162kWh of electricity from the wind and sun.  The total cost of the system was supported by a grant of £978,840 from the Big Lottery and the main installers were Scottish Hydro Contracting. The initial design was completed by Senergy, and funded though a Scottish Government CARES grant awarded by Community Energy Scotland.
When you say the islanders own and operate the system, how does that work?
The islanders are doing it for themselves.  The contractors have put the scheme in, but without the islanders own efforts they would be still on old-fashioned diesel generators and paraffin lamps.  The islanders dug trenches and provided labour for an earlier partial scheme, they ensured that all the consents and volunteers were in place to run the project and raised the funds required for the full electrification to go ahead. 
So the islanders get free power from the wind and sun Rab?
Oh no!  The Muck Community Power Company charges all the users for the power they consume.  They need money to fund maintenance of the system, insurances and replacements.  There’s no free electricity on Muck!
Thanks for putting us straight, Rab – so what was Community Energy Scotland’s role in this?
Community Energy Scotland’s Jamie Adam and myself have provided  a lot of support to the islanders throughout the scoping, planning, development and installation of the scheme.  Community Energy Scotland has given the funders the confidence to invest their money and topped-up the islanders’ capacity to promote and manage the new scheme.  After the successful scheme Community Energy Scotland helped to happen on the Isle of Eigg, we knew we could help Muck match – or go one better with this innovative whole-island energy solution. It wasn’t easy and it did take some time, but that makes it all the sweeter now that its built!
So what do the islanders have to say?
Before I gave this interview, I spoke with Ewen MacEwen.  Ewen’s family have lived and worked on Muck for over a century now.  He is looking forward to the big switch-on this Wednesday and we will post photographs and comments on the Community Energy Scotland website as soon after the event takes place as we can.
 So what is your message Rab?
We can all learn from the tenacity shown by the Muck Islanders, they had technical and financial challenges to overcome, but were ultimately successful and this scheme is of great credit to their determination. It shows what can be done and other communities should take heart from what they have achieved.
Thanks Rab – have you any further comments?
Yes.  Community Energy Scotland’s work over the past decade means that wherever you are in Scotland there is a community project we have helped with.  Muck’s turbines are not the substantial 900kilowatt machines now owned by numerous island communities, but what Muck now has is the ideal scale and blend of technologies that the population needs for 21st century life.  I’d urge anyone to come and see the scheme and see what they think for themselves. It will change your mind about how natural resources can be used sustainably to satisfy local energy needs – how good is that?