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'Energy' manifesto hints at spending windfall

The renewables sector could bring more than 1,000 jobs and £2bn of direct investment to Northern Ireland over the next decade, it has been claimed.

The Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG) made the statement as it launched its manifesto this week.

Among 10 benefits to the economy outlined in the document is a potential minimum 12% drop in electricity prices.

The last Assembly term saw the publication of the Strategic Energy Framework (SEF) which confirmed that Northern Ireland will seek to achieve 40% of its electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020

Gary Connolly, chairman of the NIRIG, has worked with ESB Wind Development for over three years managing the development of wind projects in Northern Ireland.

He said that given the natural energy resources that exist in Northern Ireland, it is uniquely placed to become a leading example in Europe.

Companies which have already invested here include Danish firm DONG Energy, which will use Belfast Harbour as a base for constructing thousands of giant turbines for offshore wind farms.

In the next 20 years it is expected 11,000 new offshore wind turbines will be built in UK and Irish waters at a cost of £100bn.

"The sector has the potential to create in excess of 1,200 jobs and dramatically reduce the 99% dependence that currently exists on imported fossil fuels," he said.

"There are also a substantial number of renewable energy investors actively examining the Northern Irish market.

"Managed correctly, this interest could translate into more than £2bn of direct investment for Northern Ireland over the next 10 years."

He said that the industry needs clear support from the Assembly to increase investor confidence and to increase the social acceptance of the renewables market.

NIRIG represents the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and RenewableUK in Northern Ireland.