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Sammy Wilson backs £200m wind power scheme boost

By Linda McKee

Northern Ireland’s hard-pressed homeowners could be looking forward to lower electricity prices in the future because of a revolutionary new scheme to store wind energy deep beneath Larne Lough.

The £200m scheme to pump wind power into salt caverns under the Antrim Coast could contribute to stabilising electricity prices — which rose several times last year — and help to reduce Northern Ireland’s heavy dependence on imported energy, according to renewables firm Gaelectric.

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson — a critic of wind power — today gave his blessing to the plans, which could see the creation of 200 jobs across the construction and engineering sectors if the geology of the Larne area proves suitable, although he said some technical issues need to be resolved. The plan is to store wind energy underground in salt caverns in the form of compressed air and release it at times of peak demand by using it to power electricity turbines.

The ambitious scheme could contribute to stabilising electricity prices which fluctuated last year, leaving homeowners facing hefty hikes.

While NIE decreased its tariffs by 10.8% in January, on foot of a reduction in world gas prices, cash-strapped consumers are still paying 35.5% more for their electricity than they were in June last year because of two previous sharp rises. The scheme should allow wind power to be integrated onto the grid more quickly and efficiently, boosting employment in businesses that construct and operate wind farms.

Mr Wilson, whose constituency of east Antrim could be suitable for the siting of the scheme, has previously been critical of the drive towards wind power, dismissing wind farms as unsightly and warning that the intermittent nature of supply means back-up power is always needed.

However, he told the Belfast Telegraph that the new scheme addresses both these issues.

“I spoke to Gaelectric about a year ago. This project, I think, has two advantages.The impact on the landscape should be much reduced because they intend putting the windmills at sea, so you don’t have the same impact on the landscape and there is substantial wind to generate the power,” he said.

Mr Wilson added that the scheme also gets round the problem of having to build back-up facilities because of intermittent supply.

The plan was announced as First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness set off for Washington DC in a bid to attract investment to Northern Ireland.

Ministers bang the drum for Northern Ireland

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