The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) recently launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO), which addresses Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) incentive payments for various renewable technologies in the region.
As a local wind energy company which develops single wind turbines that feed directly into the electricity grid, we will be preparing a full response to the public consultation in the coming weeks but are pleased the Executive has indicated its commitment to continue its support for renewable projects. Against a very challenging target of 40 per cent it is essential that government maintains strong support for the renewable industry. Extension of the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation from 2033 to 2037, for example, would encourage further investment and growth in the local renewable sector.
We are also encouraged by Energy Minister Arlene Foster’s reference to setting ROC levels that meet the specific requirements of the Northern Ireland market. Financial support for these projects was increased to 4 ROCs in April 2010 and it is our belief the incentives should be maintained at the current levels to enable sufficient time for investment to take place and to provide a credible level of generating capacity. Encouragement for local emerging schemes, such as the single wind turbine projects we provide, is very important for the region. In our response to the consultation we will be urging DETI to maintain the level of financial support in this area until at least 2017.
Single wind turbine projects are relatively quick to develop, in comparison to traditional wind farms. We plan to develop approximately 200 single wind turbines by 2016. They benefit Northern Ireland’s rural economy by enabling farmers and landowners to participate in the renewable generation. However, as an emergent sector, with individual projects taking the necessary time from inception to commissioning, a secure incentives regime is vital to attract the continued levels of investment needed. It must be allowed to mature if it is to substantially contribute to Northern Ireland’s renewable energy generation targets.
Approvals, connections and financing are three key challenges for the renewable energy sector in Northern Ireland and certainty in the first two make obtaining the latter that much easier.
Planning consent for wind turbines remains a slow and difficult process and needs to be speeded up. Then there is the question of connecting each source of renewable power to the grid quickly and effectively. The third challenge is finance. Simple Power has already secured strong financial backing, but not every player can say the same. Once again, it is all about commitment from Government and the finance providers. A joined up approach is vital if we are to be truly successful and committed as a region to a renewable energy future.
Looking towards 2012, it is crucial that the Northern Ireland Executive sends out a strong message that it is committed to the development and deployment of renewable energy projects, and the industry’s supply chain to deliver them. In November 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron and the most senior figures at the highest level of the UK Government acknowledged the crucial role that renewable energy has to play in our economic development. The Prime Minister recognised the role of the wind industry in creating jobs and generating wealth for the economy, as well as giving us energy security and helping us to meet our carbon reduction targets.
I believe Northern Ireland should look closely at the Scottish model for the renewable sector. Scotland has won international praise for the lead it has taken on renewable energy. Its First Minister Alex Salmond has played a major role in driving the adoption of renewable sources of power, innovations in grid technology and R&D in wind turbine development
Scotland has not only provided inspiring leadership. It is exploiting one of the greatest resources anywhere on the planet, in wind energy. In Northern Ireland, we too are perfectly geographically positioned to exploit the opportunities of wind energy.
Northern Ireland is very well placed to maximise the opportunities available in the new green economy – we have the natural resources, the political support and the entrepreneurial drive – now we need to ensure that the projects are delivered. To enable that, Northern Ireland needs a Renewables Champion, our own Alex Salmond.