Farmers seek judical review over plan to axe wind turbine subsidies
THE Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and energy firm Simple Power have lodged papers asking for a judicial review of proposals to close a scheme for subsidising wind energy projects earlier than planned.
The Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (Niro) scheme is due to close from next April.
The system of Renewables Obligation Certificates (Rocs) offers blanket payments for all projects.
Many farmers sought to place wind turbines on their property in a bid to boost farm incomes.
The proposal by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) is currently out for consultation.
It had initially been expected the scheme would remain open until 2017 - a year longer than the UK-wide initiative.
Although indicating he hoped to keep the incentives open, enterprise minister Jonathan Bell later said it would close in line with Britain.
He later denied a U-turn claiming his hands were tied by British officials.
Simple Power and the UFU said their legal action "focuses on Deti’s handling of the consultation process and follows substantial industry-wide complaints about the impact the proposals will have on farmers and businesses across Northern Ireland, many of whom have spent time and money developing farm based wind energy projects (of less than 250kW), in the expectation the Niro scheme would be retained until 1st April 2017".
They also expressed concern about "the decision to treat large-scale and small-scale wind energy generators in the same way for the purposes of closing the Niro, despite key technical and commercial differences between these forms of renewable energy generation".
It is anticipated the Judicial Review leave hearing will take place in January.
In November, Mr Bell insisted he did not make a U-turn over the north’s policy on subsidising renewable energy projects saying 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 Northern Ireland would be offered a period of grace to continue the Rocs scheme.
Last night, Mr Bell said he "continues to press for best deal for onshore wind industry and consumers".
“It has always been my desire to bring the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation to a controlled and managed end, ever conscious of the need to strike a balance between maximising the amount of megawatts that can be achieved and the cost to consumers. With this in mind I consulted on aligning with the Decc policy, having successfully secured a later eligibility date for projects connecting to cluster connections," he said.
“I recognise that the industry needs clarity and I had hoped to publish the formal government response before now. I continue to engage with Decc to secure the best outcome for Northern Ireland and will issue the consultation response as soon as possible.”
Although the Niro works in conjunction with the British scheme, the policy and legislation is devolved to Northern Ireland.
The cost of incentivising renewables is socialised across all UK electricity consumers.
Wind farms account for over 90 per cent of the total renewable electricity consumed in the north.