Environment Minister Hails Offshore Renewable Opportunity for Northern Ireland
The significant contribution and key needs of the renewable energy industry to the economic and environmental future of Northern Ireland will top the agenda at the annual Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG) conference being held today (31 January) in Belfast.
The “NI wind energy – the scale of the opportunity” conference will also examine the strategic priorities for infrastructure development and delivery; specific policy issues; industry responses to responsible environmental development; and the future of offshore renewable energy development.
Speaking in advance of the conference, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: “I am a firm supporter of renewable energy – I believe it represents Northern Ireland’s single biggest economic opportunity and an essential growth sector for the North. DOE Planning has made this a priority – statistics released in January show that the number of decisions issued against renewable energy applications doubled from 88 in the second quarter of 2011/12 to 177 in the same quarter of 2012/13. Over nine tenths (92%) of these renewable energy applications were approved.”
Mark Ennis, Chairman of Invest Northern Ireland, and a speaker at the conference added:
“The economic benefit for Northern Ireland in relation to renewable energy is substantial. There are currently over 4000 people employed in the local wind energy sector and there are many new opportunities for established businesses in the supply chain which have yet to be fully realised. Local onshore wind farms have the potential to contribute almost £1million annually to the local economy through rates, whilst the overall potential annual value of the renewable market to Northern Ireland is estimated to be almost £2billion per annum by 2020 across a range of sectors. Renewable energy also makes a vital contribution to rebalancing the energy mix away from fossil fuels that will ultimately reduce energy costs to the benefit of all business in Northern Ireland. ”
Gary Connolly, Chairman of Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group, which represents the collective voices of Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and RenewableUK in Northern Ireland, commented:
“Wind power has the potential to be a significant economic lever for Northern Ireland, and the resource that we have at our disposal is the envy of our European neighbours. Recent developments such as the awarding of leases for up to 600MW of offshore wind off the coast of County Down are a clear indication that we are moving in the right direction.”
However, the sector’s growth potential could be undermined by continued regulatory uncertainty as Connolly explained: “The full economic benefits of the sector can only be realised if key stakeholders such as the Utility Regulator, NIE and SONI work collaboratively to ensure that the necessary grid infrastructure is delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner. If we can achieve regulatory certainty and timely grid connection and development, Northern Ireland can be a renewable powerhouse which provides employment and export opportunities to both the island of Ireland and Great Britain.”
The official launch of a community commitment protocol, which will ensure communities will benefit from projects of signatories in their local area, will also take place at NIRIG’s conference.
Minister Attwood has welcomed the industry’s willingness to work alongside local communities: “I welcome the leadership shown by industry in publishing this protocol and believe that communities and developers working together can deliver both real growth for Northern Ireland and benefits for their local area.”
The Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG) is a joint 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 energy.
Press release, January 31, 2013; Image: IWEA