Energy feeling wind of change as plans for single wind turbines plunge
Plunging applications for single wind turbines have been hailed as the "end of the gold rush" as they prove too costly to connect to the grid.
The latest planning stats reveal that the number of renewable energy planning applications received between July and September for Northern Ireland this year dropped by just over a fifth (21%) compared to the same period last year.
It follows a similar trend in the first quarter of 2014/15 when numbers plunged by almost a half (49%) compared to a year previously - reflecting a downward trend from peak levels in 2011/12.
The figures appear in the provisional Northern Ireland Planning Development Management Statistics July-September 2014.
A Department of the Environment (DoE) spokesman said: "The renewable energy reductions are being driven by falling numbers of single wind turbine applications, down by around one third in the quarter to 91, whilst only one application for a wind farm was received in this latest quarter compared to five in same period last year."
Approval rates for renewables projects have also dropped to 82%.
Meabh Cormacain of Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group said the trend probably reflects the very high grid connection costs for single turbines in recent years.
"It's got to the point where it's starting to make projects just not viable," she said.
Meanwhile, Manufacturing NI said the drop in planning applications probably reflects the end of the "gold rush" for small wins.
"Our very generous reward system certainly created a dash for development which has put strain on not only the network and the approval systems, but also costs to customers who take the electricity," a spokesman said.
"Our view would be that renewables support should be focused not on those who want to simply export the electricity, but to those who can use it.
"With some of the most expensive electricity in Europe, supporting on-site generation at sites which can use the power helps meet sustainability targets, removes cost to improve competitiveness, reduces demand on the network thus impacting positively on to security of supply. The benefit is multiplied many times so this is a much smarter way of meeting targets and securing or creating employment.
"The Germans are recalibrating their renewables incentives to repair their market and, on Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron signalled the end of UK subsidies for onshore wind, saying 'enough is enough', adding that they were adding unnecessary cost to consumers and calling for them to "make their case" simply through the planning system.
"We too need to repair our market or risk losing those who most need the energy and support all other customers on the network."
Story in brief
The number of renewable energy applications dropped from 151 applications received in quarter two 2013/14 to 120 in the equivalent quarter 2014/15; a decrease of just over one fifth (21%). Single wind turbines decreased by almost one third, from 133 in quarter two of 2013/14 to 91 in the same period of 2014/15. There has been a substantial decline in the number of wind farm applications received, from five in quarter two 2013/14, to one in quarter two 2014/15. During the same period, however, the number of solar panel applications doubled from nine to 18.