Business bodies in all-island approach to keep lights on

Experts have analysed government plans on green energy investment
CBI Northern Ireland and Ibec have called for an all-island approach to energy security and climate challenges (Tom Leese/PA)

Two of Ireland’s biggest business bodies are calling for an all-island approach to energy security as natural gas supplies decline and with no emergency storage in place in the event of a major disruption to the inter-connectors with Britain.

It comes at the height of the winter period and therefore a time of peak power consumption, when the risk is highest for insufficient electricity supply to meet demand.

CBI Northern Ireland and Ibec have jointly launched an all-island energy policy report, which highlights lack of coordination as a significant barrier to energy and climate progress.

It calls on policy-makers in both jurisdictions to develop and pursue a more coordinated and ambitious effort to transition to net zero and to recommit to a single electricity market.

It also highlights that the shift to net-zero offers a significant chance to enhance competitiveness, boost energy resilience, make energy more affordable, and generate sustainable jobs.

But it points to challenges such as regulatory uncertainty, planning delays, skills shortages, supply chain constraints, and emerging energy security risks, which are all impeding progress toward climate goals.

“Ireland and the United Kingdom are at a major energy crossroads. Both have set world-leading climate and renewable targets and are targeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” the business bodies say.

And they stress: “But the two islands must build on past successes and work together to reinforce energy security and drive zero carbon innovation and investment.”

Fergal O’Brien, executive director of lobbying and influence at Ibec, said: ”The restoration of the Stormont Executive and recommencement of North/South Ministerial Council meetings, presents a real opportunity to begin a new phase of cooperation.

“While both the UK and Ireland have set world-leading climate and renewable targets, the importance of an all-island approach is a critical component.

“The energy demands, emissions drivers, and barriers to decarbonisation are broadly shared across the two islands, and policy-makers face the same difficulties with infrastructure delivery, energy affordability, public buy-in, skills shortages, carbon leakage, and technology readiness.

“An uncoordinated and disjointed approach could see policy-makers working against each other, resulting in unnecessary duplication of effort and investment, increased costs, mixed signals for consumers and investors, and missed opportunities for emission reduction.”

His views are shared by CBI Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan, who said: “Policy uncertainty has to date been a defining feature of the energy sector in Northern Ireland.

Angela McGowan
Angela McGowan

“But with a new Executive in post, businesses now look forward to a period of energy policy predictability and strategic collaboration.”

She added: “Northern Ireland’s continued participation in the Single Electricity Market, which has delivered proven benefits for consumers across the island, is critical. But with a relatively small market, it will be in Northern Ireland’s economic interest to broaden that energy collaboration with both RoI and Great Britain.

“The business community recognises the immense opportunities from increase investment, energy security and job creation. However, these can only be realised through collaboration, both north-south and east-west, to ensure that regulatory divergence does not hinder progress.”