Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) has highlighted the economic importance of having an up-to-date energy strategy for Northern Ireland.
Clear policy on the way forward will create greater certainty for business and employers and will help locally-based businesses plan for growth and expansion, particularly large energy users.
That was the key message from NI Chamber and its members at the organisation’s latest Energy Forum with partner SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland).
Keynote speakers at the event included Meabh Cormacain (Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group); John Toner (Williams Industrial Services); Andrew Ryan (TLT Solicitors) and Joris Minne (representing DP Energy’s Fair Head Tidal Project).
Christopher Morrow, Head of Policy at Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Northern Ireland needs an up-to-date energy strategy urgently and, because it is a devolved matter, we need the executive back in place for energy matters to proceed. This is both in the interests of everyone and for the promotion of economic growth.
“Our members are very clear on the fact that a new energy policy is important to allow them to plan for the future and create economic growth. Therefore we need to see steps taken to create that long-term certainty for everyone.
“Knowing there is a secure, sustainable and cost-effective energy supply is a fundamental consideration for investors and employers. This is particularly important for the types of energy-intensive industries that we are trying to attract to and grow within Northern Ireland.
“There is also an urgent need to underline the importance of the all island energy market in ongoing Brexit negotiations. Implementation of the I-SEM will increase competition in the all-island electricity market and provide further benefits to consumers. It is therefore important that energy is a key priority during any Brexit discussions.”
Speaking on the importance of the renewable sector in particular, Andrew Ryan, Partner in TLT Solicitors’ Renewables team, said: “We are now entering a new phase for the development of renewable energy projects in Northern Ireland. Subsidies are coming to a close, the electricity market will transition to the new I-SEM in 2018 and of course we have the added challenge of Brexit on the horizon.
“Investors want certainty and if renewables are to continue to play a significant role both in decarbonising energy generation and mitigating energy costs, the new direction of travel, the opportunities and the risks need to be properly understood. Government plays a key part in providing the positive signals that business requires and it is incumbent on all of us to think creatively about new opportunities that might arise. Energy supply is an all-island issue, but we must look carefully at how Northern Ireland might benefit from future changes and face the possible challenges of exiting the EU head on.”
Also speaking at the event, Meabh Cormacain, Manager at Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG), said: “The renewables sector in Northern Ireland has delivered high-value jobs and investment in the drive to create a modern energy system, led by an ambitious strategy. A growing and increasingly diverse supply chain has also led to local companies developing new markets in renewable energy, while colleges and universities have received significant funds to research and develop new technologies for maximising our renewable resources.
“Recently, we have seen unprecedented announcements on the tumbling costs of offshore wind, and other devolved regions of the UK are setting ever more ambitious, yet achievable targets for clean energy. In this fast-growing sector we’re keen to ensure that low-carbon energy can continue to benefit consumers and business locally and contribute to a clean, cost-effective and secure energy future.”
Natasha Sayee Head of Public Affairs at SONI, concluded: “We are very pleased to support the Northern Ireland Chamber’s Energy Forums as they help members better understand the local energy market and the role it plays in driving the economy.
“A key part of SONI’s role is making sure homes and businesses have the electricity they need and that it’s delivered to consumers as efficiently as possible. This includes making sure we have the modern infrastructure.
“We’re actively progressing projects throughout Northern Ireland, including one not far from Ballymoney where this morning’s Energy Forum was held; the Agivey Cluster Project will connect over 80 MW of renewable energy to the grid. This will help to secure electricity supply in Northern Ireland, and will also contribute to the government-led renewable energy target of 40% by 2020.
“We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Chamber and its members as we continue our work to support economic growth and employment in the years to come.’’