The island of Eigg, measuring just five miles by three, lies 10 miles offshore from the Scottish mainland. In 1997, the 70 islanders joined together to buy their island, raising the £1.6 million needed from public donations. This ended Eigg’s unhappy history of private ownership, most notoriously by the Olympic bob-sleigh champion and gelatine heir Keith Schellenberg.
The buyout changed the island’s fortunes. Eigg’s population increased and employment prospects improved – but the lack of a constant electricity supply held back development. Eigg Electric Ltd devised an island electrification scheme based on renewable energy. When conractors Energy Renewed arrived on Eigg in November 2007 to erect the four wind turbines, the last element in the project, harsh autumn weather hampered progress turning the site into a sea of mud. With high rainfall, hydro provides the backbone of the island’s renewable energy.
All power sources feed into a bank of batteries before being distributed. Eigg Electric Ltd are capping the supply to provide everyone with the same maximum capacity; 5KW for households and 10KW for larger businesses. “It will be an interesting social experiment,” says John Booth, a director of the Eigg Heritage Trust.