SCOTTISH Hydroelectric owner SSE has passed a milestone in a project to harness the potential to generate renewable energy in the Shetland area by awarding contracts to build a subsea transmission link between the islands and the mainland.

The energy giant said the 160-mile high voltage link will support the transition to net zero and deliver substantial socio-economic and environmental benefits.

It reckons work on the link will help fuel the recovery from the downturn triggered by the coronavirus.

However, there may be disappointment that Perth-based SSE has chosen firms based overseas to lead work on the £630 million link.

READ MORE: Can green energy revolution create enough jobs to make up for Scottish oil decline?

SSE said the appointment of the four main contractors for the Shetland HVDC link was the final milestone for a project which will allow energy generated in the Shetland area to be supplied to the national grid.

The project will involve building substations in Shetland and Caithness that will be connected by a subsea cable. SSE described these as “critical national infrastructure assets”.

The company said: “The Shetland HVDC link will deliver substantial socio-economic and environmental benefits to Shetland’s, Scotland’s and the UK’s economy, supporting hundreds of skilled jobs in the process as part of the green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”

At its peak, in the summer of 2022, the project is expected to employ almost 250 people. The link is expected to become operational in July 2024.

The link has generated controversy.

READ MORE: 'We don't want your money' - Shetland protests as SSE presses ahead with UK's biggest windfarm

Sector regulator Ofgem did not approve SSE’s original proposal to build the link because it was not sure there would be enough power generated in the Shetland area to justify the investment required to install the link. The costs will be paid by consumers through their bills.

In April Ofgem approved the project subject to being satisfied that SSE would proceed with plans to build the giant Viking windfarm in Shetland.

In June SSE gave the green light to the Viking project. Proposals for the 103-turbine windfarm have been criticised by locals on environmental grounds.

SSE appointed Siemens and BAM to lead on the substation work. NKT will manufacture and install the subsea cable. The Hitachi ABB Power Grids venture will commission the system.

READ MORE: Energy giant Drax considering plans for massive investment in power station in Argyll hills

A spokesperson said SSE was extremely confident the project would deliver benefits at a local and national level.

The spokesperson noted that local sub-contractors would be expected to win work on the link. It should provide substantial indirect benefits, such as hotel nights and spending on other local services.

SSE sparked a furore in June when it revealed the turbines for the Seagreen windfarm off the Angus coast will be made on the Isle of Wight.