Wind farms: let's harness their potential
The transition towards a low-carbon electricity system in Northern Ireland is well underway, with 31 wind farms comprising 518MW of installed capacity currently connected to the grid.
The reasons for developing our enviable renewable energy resources are many: contributing to European targets, mitigating the very real threat of climate change and reducing Northern Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels, which have been the main cause of household bill increases.
Northern Ireland's Strategic Energy Framework sets a target for 40% of our electricity to be provided from renewable energy sources by 2020. In 2012, we had reached just under 14%, of which the bulk was onshore wind.
This reduces reliance on imported fossil fuels and in 2012-13 delivered 612,678 tonnes of CO2 savings in Northern Ireland. At 1.15pm on Tuesday of this week, for example, 38% of Northern Ireland's electricity needs were being provided by wind.
Not only does renewable energy increase our security of supply and create a more low-carbon electricity network, it represents a great economic opportunity.
Benefits flow to communities through land-lease payments, road upgrades and community funding; to councils through business rates; and to local companies through construction, finance and professional services.
In addition, many turbines in Northern Ireland are individual ones: 40% of UK farmers now use renewable energy, which can contribute significantly to incomes.
It is important to note that wind is not driving large rises in household energy bills. Earlier this year the Utility Regulator noted that tariff changes are largely driven by increases in the cost of gas. Indeed, it is estimated that, as we move closer to our 2020 renewables targets, wholesale electricity costs will reduce.
Moving towards our new energy future will require evidence and vision and we need to allow communities in Northern Ireland to play a full part in this debate.
We have some of the best renewable resources in Europe. We cannot afford to be complacent about the development of these.
Gary Connolly is chairman of the Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group