Call for all-Ireland approach to funding renewable energy
LEGISLATORS should "wholly rethink" how the renewable energy sector in the north is supported.
That was a the stark warning sounded by industry expert Richard Murphy at the Northern Ireland Energy Forum, held yesterday.
Mr Murphy, energy partner at Pinsent Masons, made the remarks to hundreds of delegates at the conference amid uncertainty over the future of subsidies for the sector.
It has been proposed that the current system of paying generators through the Renewables Obligations Certificates (Rocs) scheme should be replaced with Contracts for Difference (CFDs).
It means projects must bid for subsidies on a competitive basis rather than receive payments purely by virtue that they are eligible.
However, the north is behind Britain in making the change and the British government has said any additional costs incurred in the meantime bust be borne locally.
Mr Murphy said there is an argument for Northern Ireland moving away from adopting a mirror image of Britain and enter into its own solution within the single electricity market in Ireland.
With the Utility Regulator unlikely to accept any cost being passed on to the consumer, it leaves uncertainty as to where renewable energy projects in the north lie.
However, energy minister Jonathan Bell recently announced the Rocs scheme would remain open for onshore wind installations for a further year.
"Having adopted a wait and see approach towards England and Wales, we are behind the curve in preparing for the new mechanism and dealing with transitional issues," said Mr Murphy.
"In my view, the difficulty posed also presents an opportunity to wholly re-think how we support the renewables industry. Northern Ireland was a relatively small voice in the debate over the future of the UK industry, but if we were to maximise our use of devolution and seek to capitalise on the single electricity market with the Republic of Ireland, we could create an all-island mechanism much more fit for purpose.
"The intention of devolution is to pursue different policies when they are of benefit to the local region. For the future of our renewable energy sector the time has come to use it or lose it."