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Skye hydro scheme to undergo £1.5m upgrade

One of the smallest hydro schemes in Scotland is to have a £1.5 million re-furbishment in 2014, but it will be a complicated project as there is no road to it, only a railway down a cliff.

Sixty years after the Storr Lochs scheme opened on Skye, electricity giant SSE has decided it needs an upgrade, and those tasked with the job will have to commute to work by rail.

The Storr Lochs are a favourite spot for anglers on Skye situated three miles from Portree with the famous Old Man of Storr rock pinnacle to the north

In 1952 the water of the lochs, constantly replenished by Skye's heavy rainfall, was harnessed to provide electricity for the island community in a hydro scheme that is now an integral part of the National Grid.

Before then there were some areas such as round the Broadford area which were connected to electrical power via an underwater cable from Kyle of Lochalsh. But many hotels on the island relied on their own generators, as did some of the larger houses.

However, in 1949 the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board received permission to construct a dam and power station at Storr Lochs.

Lochs Fada and Leathan are on the Trotternish peninsula on the east of the island. A dam was built at the northern end of the latter and a pipeline which carries water 446 feet down cliffs to generators in the station on the shore of Bearreraig Bay, providing a generation capacity of 2.4 megawatts.

The steepness of the location meant it was near impossible to put in a road, so engineers decided that a railway carrying a coach pulled by a cable up and down the hillside was the answer.

Donnie Macleod, the sole engineer present at Storr Lochs for 25 years, lives in a house above the cliffs.

He said the station ran most of the year and often when the main line from the mainland is down for maintenance Storr Lochs and Stornoway power station on Lewis keep the lights on in Skye. It may be tiny in comparison with SSE's 100mw Glendoe scheme above Loch Ness, but it still produces eight million kilowatt hours of electricity per year on average.

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