The Northern Ireland Executive should develop a long-term vision for renewable energy which incorporates energy and the economy and it should establish partnerships with other devolved administrations in the UK and with the Republic of Ireland, according to the Asssembly’s Enterprise Committee.
Following the committee’s inquiry into barriers to the development of renewable energy, the Enterprise Committee called on the Northern Ireland Executive to implement “clear and identifiable targets by which we can measure our progress.”
The committee said that policy must look “well beyond” 2020 in order to secure our long-term energy future.
The committee recommended that the Executive:
• gives all responsibility for energy policy to a single government department;
• implements interim targets for electricity consumption from renewable sources;
• includes targets for energy creation from sources other than wind in the Strategic Energy Framework;
• examines the potential of anaerobic digestion; and
• ensures that the public inquiry into the interconnector, which began on 18 August 2010, be made a priority.
• The Utility Regulator should review the process for grid connection to ensure that it is fully transparent and costs are fully explained.
In addition, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) should learn from the success of other European regions in accessing funding and ensure that local business don’t miss out on those opportunities. Invest NI should grow internal renewable energy markets and the skills required to support it.
Too much investment and policy emphasis was placed on on-shore wind which was detrimental to other forms of energy generation, the committee heard.
The committee welcomed renewable initiatives such as DETI’s Strategic Energy Framework, which sets a target of 40 per cent of electricity from renewable by 2020 and the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister’s Sustainable Development Strategy, which includes a target for the Northern Ireland economy to become 85 per cent resource efficient by 2025 by reducing landfill and water leaks and increasing recycling. However, it concluded that work has been done “in the absence of an overall vision for renewable energy in Northern Ireland.”
Base costs in Northern Ireland are higher than in competing regions, respondents told the committee. Norway and Denmark were cited as examples of low-cost regions exporting to the global market.
Northern Ireland’s energy sector is “monopolistic” because NIE dominates the market, according to the respondents, who added that greater competition is needed.
Low public awareness about the need to develop renewable energy is a further impediment. Instead of educating the public on energy efficiency, the Executive should be explaining grid infrastructure, security of supply, economic competitiveness and the need to reduce carbon consumption, it was suggested.
Energy from waste should be driven at the top level of government instead of local councils, the committee was told.
There was a consensus that the current renewable obligation certificate (ROC) system bred uncertainty and made banks reluctant to finance renewable projects. A feed-in tariff would be more desirable. Planning delays were also cited as a major barrier.
Committee Chairman Alban Maginness said: “There is so much potential from other technologies such as biomass and geothermal and we would like to see [DETI] considering these. We are falling behind Europe in the development of these technologies. We are also missing out on opportunities that would help grow Northern Ireland’s economy.”