The £150 million plant was closed by a rockfall in August 2009, just eight months after beginning operations and two months after its official unveiling by the Queen. It has been a high-profile project for the Scottish and Southern Electricity Group since then Prime Minister Tony Blair triggered a tunnel blast to signal the beginning of work in February 2006.
As recently as May 2010, when contractor BAM Nuttall started repair work at the site near Loch Ness, SSE chief executive Ian Marchant predicted reopening it in early summer 2011. However, last month a spokeswoman said that “SSE can now only forecast a return to electricity production on the basis of progress so far, and it expects this to take place in the first half of 2012. Work is going well but it is complex,” she said. “Nothing is concerning at all. It is just the general pace.” She noted that work would continue through the winter but said it might slow.
What SSE had not bargained for was the fact that many of the workers for BAM Nuttall are devout Catholics from Germany with a deep devotion to St Barbara. They requested that work on the tunnel be suspended on her Feast Day so that the tunnel could be given a proper blessing. This plan seemed doomed, because the area was practically cut off to the outside world because of the extremely heavy snow. No priest could be found to perform the blessing, so SSE suggested the blessing be put off to a later date. The workers objected strongly to this suggestion and said that the blessing must be done on the proper day.
So, two days before the feast, I received an urgent telephone call late in the evening, and was asked if I would perform the blessing if suitable transport was laid on for me for the 30 mile journey from my home. The high point of the ceremony was to be the blessing of a new statue of the saint which was to be placed in a niche at the entrance to the tunnel. It was an invitation too good to turn down, but there was one problem - I had never heard of St Barbara!