U-turn on wind power subsidies ‘will cause crisis’, Larne firm claims

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A Larne renewable energy company has hit out at Stormont’s u-turn on subsidies for land-based wind turbine projects.

Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) –the province’s main mechanism of support for renewable energy generation projects – is to be closed to new onshore wind projects from next April, keeping it in line with changes to subsidies across the rest of the United Kingdom.

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell had initially said he would maintain the subsidy system until 2017, but he recently backtracked and said that changes in UK policy now mean that keeping it until 2017 would impose extra costs on consumers.

But Wind NI, one of the largest wind power development companies in Northern Ireland, claimed the move has thrown the wind turbine industry into disarray.

Rob McMillan, general manager of the firm, said: “This represents a major change from what initially been discussed and it must be stressed that, as a result of Mr Bell’s initial positive comments, substantial investment has been committed which could now be lost. This poses a huge risk to the businesses involved which cannot be ignored.

“One very clear point, which cannot be stressed enough, is that the economic impact of this decision is colossal and will leave NI’s onshore wind industry in crisis. There will undoubtedly be job losses in the sector, estimated by some agencies to be in the region of 5,000-10,000.

“Additionally, there will be an impact on the services being used across the sector and associated businesses will see a significant drop in revenue as contracts and projects diminish. This poses a huge threat to NI’s economy and seems to be completely overlooked.

“We would urge the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to review this proposal in light of the dangers it poses, and view the decision within the context of its economic and environmental impact.”

Meanwhile, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said it would prepare “a robust response” to consultation on the closure of the NIRO.

At the latest monthly meeting of the council’s planning committee, elected members were informed that DETI was consulting on changes to NIRO, which include grace periods for projects that already have planning consent, a grid connection offer and acceptance, until Wednesday, October 14.

A planning official told members of the committee, however, that 39 applications for single turbines and one for seven turbines within Mid & East Antrim will miss the grace period.

Council’s chief executive Anne Donaghy said the unusual ‘two-week’ consultation period would mean “a fast turnaround” to draw up a submission of response and that while she hoped council’s views would be taken on board.

“We will do our best to put together, in the time frame, as robust a response as we can,” she told members.

Vice-chair of the planning committee, Councillor Stephen Nicholl said: “Government came up with a licence to print money and have decided now there are too many licences.”