Wind power 'could generate billions'
The growth potential of wind energy in Northern Ireland could be undermined by continued uncertainty around regulation of the sector, according to an industry body.
Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG) chairman Gary Connolly said the region could be a renewable powerhouse provided electricity grid infrastructure development isn't delayed.
He said: "The full economic benefits of the sector can only be realised if key stakeholders such as the Utility Regulator, NIE and SONI work collaboratively to ensure that the necessary grid infrastructure is delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner." His comments come after the recent award of leases for up to 600MW of wind energy off the coast of Co Down.
He called it a "clear indication that we are moving in the right direction".
Mr Connolly was speaking ahead of the annual NIRIG conference being held today in Belfast and said our wind is "the envy of our European neighbours". The sector is said to have the potential to be a strong area of the economy.
At present there are more than 4,000 people employed in the wind sector in Northern Ireland and onshore wind farms have the potential to contribute £1m through rates, according to one of the speakers at the event, Mark Ennis, chairman of Invest NI.
He said the overall value of the renewable market here could be worth £2bn by 2020.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he is a firm supporter of renewable energy, which represents Northern Ireland's single biggest economic opportunity.
Mr Attwood added: "DoE Planning has made this a priority - statistics released in January show that the number of decisions issued against renewable energy applications doubled from 88 in the second quarter of 2011-12 to 177 in the same quarter of 2012-13.
"Over nine-tenths (92%) of these renewable energy applications were approved."