Belfast Telegraph

Putting wind in our sails

Clyde Shanks, director of Belfast planning consultancy Clyde Shanks argues that the Executive will need a greater sense of purpose when it comes to dealing with Northern Ireland's renewable energy

A much greater sense of urgency across all levels of the Stormont administration is required if the potentially enormous benefits of harnessing wind power to deliver renewable sources of energy here are to be achieved.

That was echoed by a number of speakers at the second annual gathering of industry leaders at the Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group (NIRIG) conference at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast.

Key themes emerging from the event were the need for a much more cohesive energy policy response and a specific department to be established to focus on all aspects of energy policy here.

Alban Magennis, SDLP MLA and chairman of the Enterprise Committee at Stormont, highlighted the current unworkable situation where energy policy is fragmented over six of the present government departments.

The degree to which there is a debate taking place in relation to devising a robust energy policy for Northern Ireland was challenged by economist John Simpson, who also spoke at the event.

He highlighted what he called the "policy maze" and voiced his concerns about the lack of clarity over energy policy and the need for much stronger leadership at the highest political level. "We have enormous potential to harness our natural resources but we need responsibility within government to co-ordinate all stakeholders and take decisive action."

Critical to getting anywhere near the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's target of achieving 40% of our electricity needs by 2020 is grid infrastructure planning and vision.

The conference heard about the enormous financial and delivery challenges associated with upgrading our current transmission network.

The challenge is to transform a system that is centred on the main source of population in the east of the province to enable connection of a high volume of wind farm development in the west of the province, where the wind resource is greatest.

A key ingredient in this infrastructural improvement is the North-South Interconnector which is the subject of a public inquiry into its planning application which commences next month. "The need for this to be heard and dealt with as a matter of urgency is pressing with the costs in delay of delivering this on the ground estimated to burden the taxpayer to the tune of £20m per year," said Mr Simpson.

The industry's impact on the economy, its job creation potential and investment of hundreds of millions of pounds across a wide supply chain warrant the highest level of commitment and priority within the Executive and wider Assembly.

Key to continued investment is certainty around the financial incentives set by government. The need for clarity around this issue is paramount to continue industry momentum and realise the enormously productive outcomes will benefit all of the people of Northern Ireland.