Northern Ireland 'behind the curve' on renewable energy development

Out-Law News | 09 Oct 2019 | 2:52 pm | 1 min. read

The lack of a formal pricing support mechanism has left Northern Ireland "behind the curve" for further renewables development in comparison to Great Britain and Ireland, an energy lawyer has warned.

Richard Murphy of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, was speaking at the NI Energy Forum, a leading industry conference in Belfast.

"The UK has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, whilst the Republic of Ireland has placed a milestone of 70% renewables by 2030," he said.

"Those are not just targets to grab headlines. They are underpinned by real policy frameworks and support mechanisms in the form of contracts for difference in Great Britain, and the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme in the Republic of Ireland. By contrast, Northern Ireland has no stated ambition, no new target, no policy, no formal support to drive further development - in short, we're behind the curve."

Murphy Richard

Richard Murphy

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Each day that this situation continues, our neighbours progress. They attract investment, they grow market knowledge, they develop engineering and skills, and they build infrastructure.

"Each day that this situation continues, our neighbours progress. They attract investment, they grow market knowledge, they develop engineering and skills, and they build infrastructure," he said.

Northern Ireland's renewable energy development support mechanism, the Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) scheme, closed to new capacity in April 2017 and has not yet been replaced. In mainland UK, the previous ROCs mechanism was replaced by a competitive contracts for difference scheme under which businesses compete for support through a series of auctions. Ireland has recently announced plans for its RESS scheme, which will operate in a similar way.

The energy sector in Northern Ireland is guided by the 2010 Strategic Energy Framework (SEF), which has a lifespan up to 2020. A call for evidence to shape a new SEF for 2020 is expected to get underway this autumn, and is "both overdue and welcome", Murphy said.

"Hopefully, this work means that by the time a minister reaches their desk [once devolved government is restored in Northern Ireland], the detailed consideration of what we need is already completed, and the minister can move quickly with the implementation of a plan," he said.

"Hitting the 40% renewables [electricity consumption target in the SEF] a year ahead of target proves that with the right policy, investment and development does follow and Northern Ireland can take advantage of opportunities in a greening economy. But for now, whilst others race ahead, we must wait," he said.