Northern Ireland renewables sector at risk of stalling

27 January 2016


The Northern Ireland renewables sector is at risk of stalling if a number of obstacles to its further development cannot be overcome, a leading solicitor warned today ahead of the industry’s annual conference.

Neasa Quigley, head of the energy team at Carson McDowell Solicitors, said that the renewables sector has made a huge contribution to the economy in terms of job creation, securing the energy supply and decarbonising the economy by increasing the percentage of green energy in the system.

However she warned that impediments to the industry’s growth put Northern Ireland at risk of getting stuck in a rut at a time when developers of renewables projects here have carved out a position at the forefront of the industry.

“There have been huge strides made by our renewables industry in recent years and we are delighted to have assisted a number of clients working in this sector. However, obstacles outside of developers’ control are now putting the industry on hold at a time when it should be pushing forward,” she said.

Ms Quigley was speaking as the industry’s leading lights are set to gather at the Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group’s (NIRIG) 6th Policy Workshop, entitled ‘Future Opportunities for Renewables in NI’, at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast on Wednesday.

She highlighted NIE’s moratorium on new grid connections for renewable projects and uncertainty over what will replace Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), the support mechanisms for renewable electricity projects, as the two biggest challenges facing the sector.

NIE announced in November that it would not consider approving new applications for connections to the electricity grid until May 2016. ROCs in GB are to be closed to new generation from 1 April 2016 with grace periods available until 2018 depending on meeting relevant criteria.

“The Northern Ireland government has set clear goals about the amount of electricity it wants to generate from renewable sources by 2020. NIE has said it cannot meet the current demand for capacity for network connections from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources but if it can’t accept these applications, then those targets simply won’t be met,” she said.

“The other main issue is the uncertainty over what will replace ROCs. It was hoped that our devolved assembly might be willing to go its own way on this but we now seem to simply be following the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change policy without any clarity on whether Northern Ireland will participate in the Contracts for Difference scheme available to GB developers, let alone compete for contracts in a meaningful way.”

The Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG) is a collaboration between the Irish Wind Energy Association and RenewableUK. NIRIG represents the views of the Renewable Energy Industry in Northern Ireland, providing a conduit for knowledge exchange, policy development support and consensus on best practice between all stakeholders in renewable electricity.

The NIRIG Policy Workshop – which is sponsored by Carson McDowell - is the premier renewables event in Northern Ireland and will bring together policy-makers, industry, and leading commentators to discuss the current and future scenario for the renewable energy industry.