Business

Simon Hamilton confirms end of wind turbine incentive scheme

The NIRO scheme to subsidise wind turbines will close to new applications this week

A SCHEME to incentivise renewable energy installations will close to new applications for small onshore wind projects this week it has been confirmed.

In one of his first major decisions as economy minister, Simon Hamilton said he would shut the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) scheme before the end of June.

It brings to and end a long running saga over the the initiative which had been already been pulled for larger projects earlier this year.

Mr Hamilton's predecessor Jonathan Bell faced a backlash last October when he announced the scheme would close in April, a year earlier than initially planned.

That plan brought the north in line with Britain where similar schemes were also due to close.

Mr Bell was accused of performing a U-turn on the issue having previously stated he would not fall in with plans from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to shut the scheme.

But DECC insisted any extension of a subsidy scheme in Northern Ireland beyond those in Britain would have to be paid for locally.

Previously, the cost of paying for schemes was 'socialised' across the UK, meaning it was covered by all taxpayers.

Mr Hamilton said: "Following closure of the NIRO to large-scale onshore wind from April 1 2016, my department consulted on the closure arrangements for small-scale onshore wind projects.

"This consultation was set in the context of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) intention to take a ‘backstop power’ to protect GB consumers if Northern Ireland did not close the NIRO on equivalent terms to GB.

"Approximately 93 per cent of respondents who indicated a preference supported the recommendation to close in June 2016.

“Taking account of the likely impact of DECC’s ‘backstop’ power and the tenor of the majority of consultation responses, I intend to bring legislation to the Assembly to close the NIRO to new small scale onshore wind and existing small scale generating stations adding additional capacity before the end of June if Assembly timelines permit.”

Mr Hamilton said he believed the decision "will bring closure to the NIRO in a manner that delivers the maximum amount of megawatts at the least cost to consumers".

The closure will come as a blow to many farmers who had invested in plans to install turbines in the belief the scheme would remain open until 2017.

The system of Renewables Obligation Certificates (Rocs) offers blanket payments for all projects.

Many farmers sought to place wind turbines on their property in an effort to raise farm incomes.

Last year, the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and energy firm Simple Power lodged papers asking for a judicial review of proposals to close the scheme.

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