Blown away: £1bn wind farm project for Northern Ireland axed
A £1bn wind farm project that would have supplied 20% of Northern Ireland's energy needs has collapsed.
First Flight Wind consortium has announced that it is halting development of the massive plan, which would have seen 100 turbines positioned off the Co Down coast.
The shock announcement will be a major blow to Northern Ireland's efforts to meet the target of generating 40% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.
Delays and red tape have been blamed for the collapse of the ambitious project.
Northern Ireland is lagging behind the rest of the UK in financial incentives for renewable schemes and uncertainty still surrounds the future of an all-Ireland electricity interconnector.
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said: "The Department of Enterprise must shoulder some of the responsibility.
"I blame a failure of government for the collapse of this innovative and important project. DETI have not persuaded the Department of Energy and Climate Change to be flexible regarding how renewable incentives will progress in Northern Ireland.
"The failure to anticipate the knock-on effect of this heel-dragging has rendered this massive project no longer viable."
It had been hoped that the 600MW farm would have been be operational by 2020, cutting our dependence on imported fuel to run power stations.
The giant turbines would have been visible from land, but would have been at least five miles out to sea.
First Flight Wind director Michael Harper said Northern Ireland was behind the rest of the UK in establishing electricity market reform arrangements.
He said part of the problem was also linked to the process of designing a single electricity market throughout Ireland.
A cross-border electricity interconnector, jointly proposed by Northern Ireland Electricity and Eir Grid in the Republic, has been mooted for several years but will not be built before 2019.
But the cross-border link is controversial and is opposed by some landowners and residents, who regard the pylons as unsightly and who also claim there is a health risk.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: "I am disappointed to hear the news of First Flight Wind's decision to cease development of the wind farm off the Co Down coast, however this is a commercial decision for the consortium.
"I understand that The Crown Estate, with whom First Flight Wind had agreed development rights for this site, has agreed to its request to terminate the agreement.
"My department will continue to work closely with Crown Estate officials and consider how best to proceed."
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said it was disappointing that investment and job opportunities that could have come to the local community of have now been lost due to regulatory requirements.
"Having discussed the current situation with First Flight Wind, I will now be seeking meetings with the Utility Regulator and the DETI Minister. It is vital that we pursue all opportunities for job creation and investment, particularly those that complement and can work alongside our traditional industries," she said.
Alan McCulla, chief executive of fishermen's organisation Sea-Source, said the announcement by First Flight Wind will be welcomed by the vast majority of fishermen.
"This latest announcement reinforces the case that the future of wealth creation in this corner of Northern Ireland should focus on existing industries, primarily, from our point of view, fishing," he said.
"Plans exist for the redevelopment of Kilkeel harbour, with the fishing industry a core component of this redevelopment. Today's announcement should really be used to galvanize support for the Kilkeel-based project, which would create massive opportunities for south Down."