Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Sir Reg Empey, MLA, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment,[54] Northern Ireland Executive

Q1.  What is the statutory position of Northern Ireland with respect to energy policy, and what do you understand to be the full extent of your devolved powers and responsibilities in this area?

  A1.  The Northern Ireland administration has fully devolved powers, including legislative powers, in regard to energy policy. These powers are normally exercised in a manner which is consistent with European law and with energy policy in the rest of the United Kingdom unless such policy is not appropriate having regard to the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland also has separate electricity and gas regulation arrangements, including its own Regulator.

Q2.  Have you developed a sustainable energy strategy for the devolved administration, or are you planning to do so? What targets might this include for renewable energy?

  A2.  I am in the process of developing an energy market strategy for Northern Ireland and this will include setting targets for renewable energy. I expect to complete this process before the end of 2002. For the Committee's information, I enclose copies of two recent consultation documents—"Renewable Energy in Northern Ireland—Realising the Potential" and "Towards a New Energy Market Strategy for Northern Ireland."

Q3.  Given the fact that different areas of the UK have different potentials for delivering renewable energy, what process is in place for determining the share of any UK targets which each devolved administration should bear? Do you think that present arrangements in this area are adequate? In what ways should they be improved?

  A3.  On 6 March 2002, the Minister for Energy—Brian Wilson MP—published details of the potential for renewable energy for each region of Great Britain. My Department is part funding a current study which is estimating the practicable renewable energy resources in Northern Ireland taking into account the different types of generation technology, the constraints imposed by various planning/environmental requirements or procedures and the transmission and system operational issues. I expect to have the results of this study by summer 2002. I am satisfied that the present arrangements for determining potential regional contributions towards a UK target are satisfactory.

Q4.  What is the current position of Northern Ireland in regard to renewable energy generation?

  A4.  The current position is that around 25 Megawatts of electricity is being generated from renewable sources—primarily wind—in Northern Ireland. This represents 1.7 per cent of Northern Ireland's current peak winter demand or 1.2 per cent of available electricity. There is an existing target of 45 Megawatts (about 3 per cent of peak winter demand) by 2005. The present estimate is that Northern Ireland has the potential to generate between 240 and 330 Megawatts from renewable sources (that is, between 16 per cent and 22 per cent of peak winter demand). Wind power is likely to be the major source of renewable energy but, because of its intermittent nature, there may be grid control problems—this is one of the issues which the study mentioned at A3 will address.

Q5.  What are the main barriers at present to increasing the uptake of renewable energy generation in Northern Ireland, and what policies are you developing to address them?

  A5.  Various barriers exist. These are being considered and actions are being taken to address them, including:

    —  cost in the region which already has a wide and widening disparity with electricity prices in Great Britain. A study is underway to address means of reducing electricity prices in Northern Ireland;

    —  technical constraints including problems of grid connection, although these should become clearer as a result of the study mentioned at A3 above;

    —  trading constraints which the Regulator in Northern Ireland is actively pursuing and at least a temporary solution is imminent;

    —  environmental impact which, while not a major issues up to now, is emerging in relation to a potential offshore wind project and the increasing number of onshore wind sites;

    —  immaturity of renewable technologies other than wind.

  The policies which apply at present in Northern Ireland are pre-Utilities Act 2000. The current consultation process and the ongoing studies by this Department and the Regulator will lead to the development of a fresh renewables policy in Northern Ireland with clear targets set for the proportion of electricity from renewable sources. As necessary, legislation proposals will be brought forward for consideration by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

April 2002

54   The Committee asked a number of questions to the Northern Ireland Executive and these are shown in italics. Back

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