Planning reform for onshore wind 'is critical to 2030 climate targets'

SSE Renewables owns and operates around 120MW of onshore wind farms in Northern Ireland including the 73MW Slieve Kirk wind park, the north’s largest wind farm, which generates enough wind energy to power 65,000 homes annually or all the homes in Derry City and Strabane

RENEWABLE energy developer SSE Renewables has submitted a detailed response to the Department of Infrastructure’s public consultation on the strategic planning policy for renewable energy which closed last week.

It has welcomed the Department of Infrastructure’s (DfI) consultation but stressed the planning policy changes which are required if the north is to meet the renewable energy targets set in the Northern Ireland Climate Act and passed by the Assembly last year.

SSE Renewables has previously called for ambitious targets for renewable energy to be set as part of the effort to tackle climate change.

SSE’s Ireland chairman Mark Ennis outlined how SSE can help deliver on the action needed to drive more ambitious renewable energy targets for the region in the future, and the steps the Department should include as part of the much-needed reform.

He said: “While we welcome the planning review and the Planning Improvement Programme, we are concerned that the proposed changes to planning policy contained in the Department’s consultation are not sufficient to ensure that renewable targets are met as required under Northern Ireland’s Climate Act, and in some cases the changes are indeed regressive.

“Although we welcome aspects of the revised policy, particularly in relation to co-location, we are very concerned that some parts of the proposals will hamper Northern Ireland’s ability to bring forward new renewables projects and repower existing assets.

“This could be particularly damaging to our ability to continue to develop onshore wind in the region, which has made such an enormous contribution to renewable electricity targets to date, as well as contributing to energy security and wider economy in the face of an energy crisis.”

Mr Ennis added: “While Northern Ireland has great potential for offshore wind development, in reality it is highly likely to be post-2030 before these developments are built at scale and delivering for climate targets.

“Overall, there is huge potential to harness energy from renewable sources in Northern Ireland but as a starting point planning policy must provide certainty for developers, Local Authorities, and communities.”

SSE Renewables’ head of onshore development for Ireland Ghislain Demeuldre said the consultation was an opportunity to put forward some common-sense reforms that would allow the renewable energy industry to continue to thrive, and climate targets to be achieved.

He said: “Achieving the 80 per cent renewable target by 2030 will require a doubling of Northern Ireland’s current onshore wind capacity, at the very least, translating to an additional 1,500MW of onshore renewable generation capacity alongside 500MW of new offshore capacity, which is unlikely to be delivered in that time frame.

“That is why Northern Ireland must tackle barriers in the planning process to ensure we can double our onshore wind capacity by 2030 at the very least. As things stand, the planning system here is a significant barrier for investment in major renewable infrastructure projects and so to meeting that required onshore wind target.

“Existing onshore wind farms need to remain on the grid. Installing new more efficient turbines onto existing sites can in many cases double the generation capacity of a wind farm and triple the electricity output. The clause in the consultation for repowering needs to be strengthened to ensure that the baseline for an existing wind farm is as it is today when assessing environmental impacts.

“We also believe it is vital any new DfI policy informs and be incorporated into local Council development plans and policies. The adoption and consistent application of such measures will help ensure that Northern Ireland can attract investment in large-scale renewable projects. Consistency across Government Departments and local councils is key if we are to deliver on our climate targets.

“We look forward to an ongoing positive dialogue across Government as new energy planning policy is taken forward.”