Northern Ireland wind energy 'cheaper than gas generation' by 2020

Wind energy accounted for 20 per cent of electricity generated in Northern Ireland last year

GENERATING power through onshore wind farms will be cheaper than through new gas projects by 2020, according to a leading lobby group.

But the Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group (NIRIG) said that would only be possible through if "appropriate policy and regulatory conditions" were in place.

The body is holding its annual conference in Belfast today.

It is using the occasion to call for certainty over the north's energy policy which it said is "vital to future opportunities" for renewables.

Wind energy satisfied 20 per cent of the north's electricity needs in 2015.

And it reached a new record of 583MW on June 1 last year, providing 48 per cent of Northern Ireland's electricity.

Doubt has been cast over future projects with changes in how they are incentivised.

The north's scheme for subsidising wind energy projects is due to close in April, a year earlier than planned but in line with the closure of the UK-wide initiative.

The decision has faced opposition, especially from farmers, many of whom had applied to erect single turbines in an effort to avail of the blanket payments on offer.

Stormont energy minister Jonathan Bell said he had hoped to keep the scheme open but had his hands tied by his counterparts in Britain.

Speaking ahead of today's conference, NIRIG chairwoman Rachel Anderson called for "agreement and coordination between the NI executive and UK government about the direction of energy policy and the role of wind energy in helping cut consumer bills and power our economy".

She said the typical wind farm garnered £1.18m investment per MW into the economy over its lifetime.

"The challenge for policy makers and the industry is to move to ensure that Northern Ireland’s wind energy resource can continue to act as a catalyst for jobs and investment for the future, while also cutting harmful emissions," she said.

“We are committed to ensuring that benefits continue to flow into the local economy. Today more than ever, you can stand at the base of a turbine in Northern Ireland, and be confident that significant investment flows back into the regional economy.

"It is vital for the future prosperity of Northern Ireland that renewables, particularly onshore wind continues to flourish from now to 2020 and beyond.”

Meanwhile Neasa Quigley, head of the energy team at Carson McDowell Solicitors, said the sector was at risk of stalling over obstacles to further development.

She said "obstacles outside of developers’ control are now putting the industry on hold at a time when it should be pushing forward".

“The Northern Ireland government has set clear goals about the amount of electricity it wants to generate from renewable sources by 2020.

"NIE has said it cannot meet the current demand for capacity for network connections from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources but if it can’t accept these applications, then those targets simply won’t be met,” she said.

The NIRIG conference is taking place today at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast.

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