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John Simpson

We need greater urgency with Northern Ireland energy strategy

John Simpson


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We are making slow progress on emissions

We are making slow progress on emissions

We are making slow progress on emissions

Northern Ireland is tackling global warming with a timetable that lacks the urgency that is necessary.

The need to reduce carbon emissions and generally contribute to changes that will improve the environment, whether as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner air quality, or more sustainable lifestyles, is no longer in doubt.

Cleaning up our current lifestyles in a comprehensive and orderly way poses a complicated series of problems.

The significant problem, at a macro level, is that steps to correct the deterioration in climate conditions or aspects of gaseous control, is that corrective measures will often bring additional costs.

A more sustainable lifestyle will not come cheap. There will be unavoidable short-term costs that are necessary to help the next generations live a more sustainable existence.

Energy usage, whether for heat, light, power or transport, is central to the agenda seeking changes: none more so than the role of electricity.

The UK Government has set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That statement is, of course, only a starting point.

Which sources of emissions can be reduced and how soon?

Also, can the overall net zero target be applied rigorously as an aspect of devolved responsibility?

Presumably any attempt to argue that Northern Ireland should be given a lesser or easier target would be an unacceptable form of special pleading.

However, since zero emissions can only be contemplated if farming is subjected to some major livestock stocking changes, local farm interests will be faced with what may feel like more painful adjustments relative to other regions.

Some Government and public sector institutions relating to electricity are making slow progress in addressing emissions reductions.

Even now, the Department for the Economy and the Department for Infrastructure are showing little awareness of the need for urgency in introducing major policy changes.

The Department for Infrastructure knows that the delay in giving the go-ahead for the North South Interconnector is costing electricity consumers over £25m each year.

That is before credit is taken for the beneficial consequences of its construction and operation.

The Interconnector gained planning approval over three years ago. With more normal timing, it should have had approval five to seven years ago.

There is surely no significant obstacle remaining.

Minister Nichola Mallon, your signature is overdue.

The Interconnector is one aspect of policy which can be money saving: a rare combination since most other policy changes involve a trade-off between environmental benefits and extra costs.

Perhaps the most conspicuous example of a change affecting the electricity sector which would have major environmental benefits is a challenge to the continued electricity generation from coal (or oil) at Kilroot power station.

Surprisingly, with the major changes in electricity supply (as part of the I-SEM all-island arrangements), no direct or regulatory challenge has been made to the ability of Kilroot to compete for continuing supply contracts.

Admittedly, this will become an easier supply question when the N-S Interconnector is built.

The arrival of the enhanced N-S Interconnector is also a critical key to the development of sustainable and usable supplies of renewable electricity (usually from wind).

A reliable dependence on local sources of renewable electricity depends on the ability to source alternative supplies on occasions when energy linked to sources of wind is (as does happen) too low to offer the minimum support to the network.

Currently, energy statements from public officials are pleased to report that, for short periods, 65% of local electricity needs can be sourced from renewables.

At that level we rely on Coolkeeragh and Kilroot to compensate for a reduced supply from renewables when the wind does not blow.

It is a risky strategy without significant Interconnector back-up.

The more sustainable electricity agenda is demanding and operationally complex. Integration with both the Great Britain and EU networks is needed.

Northern Ireland is at risk of being a laggard in this critical arena. A locally agreed energy strategy is awaited.

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