EnergyEnergy report

ABO Energy’s £450 million investment plans

Patricia McGrath, Head of Project Development at renewable energy developer ABO Energy discusses Northern Ireland’s renewable electricity target and the opportunities presented by the need to decarbonise.

Whilst Northern Ireland has shown in the past that it has the expertise and ambition to meet and exceed renewable energy goals; a number of factors have slowed the delivery of new projects in recent years. However, a renewable electricity consumption target of at least 80 per cent by 2030 and recent announcements from the Department for the Economy mean the sector is focused and ready to deliver once again.

“There is no doubt the last six or seven years have been frustrating when it comes to delivering new projects in Northern Ireland,” says McGrath. “Being the only region in the UK and Ireland without a government support mechanism meant we were effectively operating with our hands tied behind our back. Most of the financial investment went to other areas that were simply more attractive to investors.”

During those difficult years, most large renewable energy companies scaled back their involvement in Northern Ireland, with many leaving the region completely. However, ABO Energy continued to invest in its team and in new opportunities, which means it is now perfectly positioned to support the drive to 80 per cent by 2030.

“Our confidence in and commitment to Northern Ireland never wavered. Even when there was little cause for optimism, we focused on identifying opportunities, securing new sites and further developing our own expertise and experience. We are very proud of our fantastic team,” explains McGrath.

This approach has paid off. With a team of almost 20 full-time professionals in its Lisburn office, ABO Energy has expanded its interests here from its original involvement in onshore wind, to a portfolio of projects that now also includes battery energy storage, green hydrogen, and solar PV.

The company’s growing expertise in a wide range of technologies prompted a recent name change, having previously been known as ‘ABO Wind’.

“We had many successful years under our previous name, but ABO Energy much better reflects the breadth of skills and expertise we now have. A fundamental part of our approach is developing trusted partnerships with landowners and we want them to know from the start that we can work with them on much more than just wind energy projects,” says McGrath.

ABO Energy develops solar PV, energy storage, hydrogen and onshore wind projects.

“Our new branding has been so well received but we are also very keen to emphasise that we are still the same company with no change in ownership. Our ethos remains unchanged and everyone who deals with ABO Energy will see the same ambition, professionalism and respect they are used to from our team.”

The ambition McGrath refers to has made ABO Energy one of the most active developers in Northern Ireland, with a pipeline of developments that will make a substantial contribution to the 2030 renewable electricity target.

“As things stand we have achieved planning approval for over 375MW of projects in Northern Ireland. That includes wind farms, a green hydrogen facility and one of the largest battery energy storage projects consented on the island of Ireland,” says McGrath.

“We also have live planning applications for further projects totalling over 300MW and we expect this to grow further in the coming months. When built-out, our consented and currently proposed developments will involve an investment of £450 million.”

McGrath believes there are very few, if any, other industries that offer such significant promise across Northern Ireland: “As a sector, we are proposing generational levels of private investment here. It is Northern Ireland’s single biggest economic opportunity.”

Born and raised outside Dungannon, County Tyrone, McGrath studied at Queen’s University Belfast and now lives with her husband and three young children close to where she grew up. “I particularly like the fact our investments create benefits across the region – mostly in rural areas that otherwise really struggle to attract funding and economic growth. That is important to me personally, as well as the investment needed to build and operate our projects, our community benefit funds will support local groups and organisations long into the future.”

ABO Energy has an extensive educational programme in Northern Ireland, where an experienced teacher, Mrs Pauline Davison works with local primary schools on renewable energy and sustainability classes. “We see such enthusiasm from the children who are not only very conscious of the need to look after our planet, but also enjoy learning about renewables as an industry that they might one day work in,” says McGrath.

Slow and inconsistent planning decisions remain a barrier to new developments, but it is hoped recent announcements about a new support mechanism will boost activity in the renewables sector further.

“The planning issues are well rehearsed and go beyond the renewables sector, but we need to see urgent progress in that regard,” explains McGrath. “On a more positive note, we very much welcome the Department for the Economy’s announcement that a renewable energy support scheme is to be put in place, with the first auction – where projects can bid for contracts – to be held in early 2026.

“Although we feel the auction should be held sooner given the 80 per cent target date of 2030 is fast approaching, I do expect to see more interest across the sector in Northern Ireland now that we know the support scheme is on its way. It will help make new projects viable.

“That is good news for everyone, as ultimately the more locally produced green energy we can generate the less reliance we have on polluting and expensive fossil fuels.”

Concluding on whether she ever considers moving to ply her trade in another sector, McGrath, who holds an undergraduate degree in geography and a Master’s in environmental planning, responds: “No. I love the challenging nature of working on renewable energy projects, even after 12 years; and most importantly I believe we are doing the right thing.”

T: + 44 28 9099 6445

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