Energy Bill

Written evidence submitted by Dr Robert Kee, Belfast (EB 17)

I wish to express my deep concerns regarding the early proposed closure of the renewables obligation England, Wales or Scotland and the likely application of the closure to Northern Ireland (NI). In NI, no Feed in Tariff is available for renewable generators of under 5MW capacity. Consequently, if the closure is implemented as proposed in DETNI’s consultation document of 30th September, 2015, no support will be available in NI for small scale generators of renewable energy. This absence of support is inconsistent with the regime in the remainder of the UK and will cause significant financial loss to a number of farmers and private developers of small scale generation systems who have incurred significant levels of expenditure on the back of the reasonable expectation that support would be available until April 2017.

Background
I am a co-owner of a farm which is situated in Tyrone. To help ensure the viability of the business, and help to retain the farm in family ownership, a planning application for a 250kW wind turbine was submitted on 26/7/2012. Despite location of the turbine over 600m from the nearest non-financially connected neighbour, no objections, no concerns from any consultees, apart from the requirement for an acoustic report by Environmental Health, three years elapsed before planning permission was granted on 20/8/2015.

Delays
The delays were primarily due to a failure by DOE to enforce a reasonable service standard from the District Council’s Environmental Health Department (EHD). For example, in one instance, 173 working days elapsed before a response was received, despite DOE’s request for a response within 15 working days. This failure on the part of DOE resulted in excessive delays in the handling of my application.

Expenditure
More than £30,000 has been spent in relation to the application. These costs included planning agent’s fees, installation of a metrology mast and a wind speed measurement study, acoustic consultant’s fees, a shadow flicker study, planning fees, accountant’s fees for a business plan, and solicitor’s fees. Most recently, on 17th August, a £6680 was paid to NIE for a grid quotation, after the following ministerial statement:

"I am disappointed by DECC’s decision to end support for onshore wind in 2016, one year earlier than previously planned… I want to make it clear now I do not intend to follow the Westminster government’s policy to close the existing scheme early"

Jonathan Bell, MLA, Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment, June 2015,

The consultation document issued by DETNI on 30th September proposes that a grace period will only be given to farmers and developers that have secured planning permission and an agreed grid connection. This proposal is grossly unfair in that:

1. Very significant costs have been incurred by developers of small scale small scale renewable energy generation systems prior to the 30th September on the basis that the NI ROC scheme would continue as originally proposed until 2017, and for NI in particular, there was a legitimate expectation that there would be no early closure.

2. Delays in the planning process and in particular the failure of DOE and local government departments to give a reasonable standard of service, have resulted in many applications failing to meet the proposed criteria to be eligible for the grace period.

3. Eligibility for the proposed grace period is contingent upon receipt and acceptance of a grid offer from NIE, a private limited company. NIE appears to be unable to deliver grid connection quotations within the 90 days stipulated in their licence. Consequently, it is likely that only farmers and developers that made grid applications prior to the end of June will have any possibility of meeting the proposed September 30th deadline for an accepted grid offer. Given that NIE is usually unable to provide farmers and developers with a grid quotation in a reasonable timescale, it is grossly unfair that DETNI should propose that an accepted grid connection on the date of publication of the consultation document (30th September) is a requirement for eligibility to avail of the grace period. This requirement effectively results in a retrospective application of the closure, and means that for those farmers and developers who had not submitted a grid connection application prior to the end of June, all related expenditure during July, August and September was lost. This expenditure was incurred on the back of the Minister’s June statement, and the consequent legitimate expectation that onshore wind projects would be supported until 2017.

I request that:

1. The Committee gives consideration to the unique situation that pertains in NI regarding onshore generators of under 5MW capacity.

Approval of the proposals as outlined in the DETNI consultation document would be grossly unfair, and will have severe financial consequences for the viability of many farm businesses.

January 2016

 

Prepared 27th January 2016