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Inquiry will see winds of change blow through our energy sector

Stormont's Enterprise Committee is to launch an inquiry into advancing the renewable energy sector in Northern Ireland.

The decision follows a workshop for small and medium sized businesses in the industry and the committee’s visit to renewable energy plants in Europe at the end of last month.

Enterprise Trade and Investment committee chair Alban Magennis, said it was committed to helping promote the sector for both energy and economic reasons.

“The next step as a committee is to embark on an inquiry into renewable energy in Northern Ireland. That will be a very focused inquiry into a number of renewable energy sectors, it will focus on how we develop the market and how we incentivise that market and how we make that market sustainable in the medium-term,” the SDLP MLA told the Business Telegraph.

“The green agenda is very important, not just for safeguarding our environment but also for regenerating our economy.”

The workshop on May 18 featured contributions from specialists in economics, energy and government and gave industry participants an opportunity to air their current problems around competition, financing and risks faced.

While the sea, wind and grass resource in Northern Ireland is in many ways unrivalled, the view was that the province has yet to put in place a clear strategy to meet the Executive’s target of achieving 40% renewable electricity by 2020.

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The workshop was followed by visits by the committee to a biomass plant in Herten, Germany, a geothermal project in Soultz in the Alsace region of France, as well as a fact-finding stop at the EC in Brussels.

“There is an awful lot of catching up that we have to do in relation to all the sectors. Wind is probably more advanced than most, but nonetheless there still needs to be work done there |as well.

“We need to continue to push. It seems to us that we are very underdeveloped,” said Mr Magennis.

He notes that the province does not have legislation for “feed-in tariffs” that encourage microgenerators of renewable energy.

“We can learn from a number of other countries, Germany in particular, Denmark, France. We can learn one fundamental lesson: that in order to develop renewable energy, you need to develop your market and in order to do that you need to provide incentives. France and Germany provide incentives, effectively subsidies, for the generation of electrical power and other power. They’ve provided feed in tariffs,” Mr Magennis said.

“We don’t have them here but they do have them in the Republic and Great Britain for microgeneration. We don’t have the legislation for that and we should be looking at creating legislation that would bring that about.”