Minister insists he 'didn't U-turn' on renewables
ENTERPRISE minister Jonathan Bell has insisted he did not make a U-turn over the north's policy on subsidising renewable energy projects.
Mr Bell had been accused of a climb down after launching a consultation over halting the incentive for onshore wind installations in line with Britain.
It had earlier been suggested Northern Ireland could continue with its current system of Renewables Obligation Certificates (Rocs), which offer blanket payments for all projects.
But the Deti minister, who only took up the post in the spring, insisted his hands "had been tied" by Westminster's Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc).
Mr Bell said it was newly appointed Decc minister Amber Rudd who went back on a previous understanding that the north would be offered a period of grace to continue the Rocs scheme.
"They said there would be no special case for Northern Ireland," said Mr Bell.
"I didn't invent this situation.
"So what I did was, I put a proposal to our (Deti) committee, acknowledging that there was gong to be a cost (to maintain Rocs) and we'd have to pay for it ourselves. For businesses, it was going to be tens of thousands of pounds.
"There was no support in the house to do that.
"We then went back to Decc and we sought to nuance the position and gain things from them and put a second proposal before the committee which would have cost households three to five pounds, and again there was no support.
"The third position I was offered was 95 per cent of a large scale users through, 100 of our small users through and not a single extra cost to the consumer. That is what I have consulted on because I will always go with what is best for Northern Ireland."
Mr Bell's proposals will see the current system of incentivising onshore wind projects end in April 2016, a year earlier than planned.
Meanwhile, he said the planned north-south interconnector to join up Ireland's electricity grid would cut costs by €20 million (£14m).
"We all need to do everything we can to get behind bringing it to fruition," he said.
And the minister also announced plans for a manufacturing advice panel to look at costs for the industry, with a report due in February.