Belfast Telegraph

Nothing vain about wind power

By Steven Agnew

According to the DUP's Sammy Wilson, my commitment to tackling climate change is a "vanity project". I'm so vain I probably think global warming is about me.

Perhaps he's worried that the success of getting my Children's Bill through the Assembly has confirmed my naive belief that one person can make a difference. Today, children in Northern Ireland. Tomorrow, the world.

I doubt that my former economics teacher will ever change his mind on the need for renewable energy, but facts speak for themselves. Although Sammy never was one for relying on evidence when strong belief would do as well.

The argument goes that it is subsidy to the renewable sector that has led to Northern Ireland having some of the highest costs in Europe for large energy users. The inconvenient truth is that many countries with cheaper costs have a higher proportion of renewable energy generation than here.

The other fact also forgotten by those who like to lambast renewables is that traditional forms of energy also require subsidy. The most recent gas plant at Ballylumford added 1% on to electricity bills in Northern Ireland. The gas pipeline to the west received a £32m direct Government subsidy.

Nuclear is even more expensive. The Hinkley Point nuclear reactor, funded by Chinese investment, is estimated to cost $24bn. Subsidies for nuclear energy will be in place for 30 years and the Government's nuclear energy programme will add £33 per year to household bills.

Around 20% of our electricity is generated by wind. Falling costs mean that new wind farms are now producing electricity £20 cheaper per megawatt hour than a coal or gas-fired plant.

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has proposed to end the subsidy for wind a year earlier than planned with no alternative in place.

This is incredibly short-sighted given that the industry has said it would be ready to go subsidy-free by around 2021. Something the gas and nuclear industries have been unable to achieve.

In a supposed cost saving exercise we put at risk 10,000 jobs in Northern Ireland and the future of the indigenous wind industry. I may be vain, but that just seems like folly.

  • Steven Agnew is leader of the Green Party in NI

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