The ROC Grace Period and DARD Business Investment Scheme

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The announcement by UK Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd and the ‘Department of Energy & Climate Change’ (DECC) that support under the Renewables Obligation (RO) for onshore wind will end from 1 April 2016; a year earlier than provided for in the Renewables Obligation Closure Order 2014, has caused great concern in both the farming and wind sectors in Northern Ireland. However, this relates to England, Scotland and Wales and not Northern Ireland.

The Northern Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Jonathan Bell spelt out his commitment to the Northern Irish ROCs scheme: “I want to make it clear now however that I do not intend to follow the Westminster government’s policy to close the existing scheme early. Onshore wind has made a valuable contribution to our renewable energy aspirations in Northern Ireland.”

Rather than ending early the ROCs scheme in Northern Ireland has been extended giving a one year grace period to get a turbine grid connected to still qualify for the full four ROCs; however, the turbines will need to have achieved planning and applied for Grid connection prior to 31st March 2017 and be connected to the grid within the one year grace period. This means that anyone looking to develop a turbine site has an additional year to do so; however the last chance for lodging a planning application would be around March 2016 to allow a reasonable chance of getting grid connected during the grace period.

The sun is definitely setting on this lucrative sector in Northern Ireland but we have been given an additional year to make the most of an incentive scheme that will likely never be repeated.

The other big grant scheme which is creating a stir in the farming community is the DARD Business Investment Scheme under the New Rural Development Programme. This scheme has a potential budget of 200 million and is designed to support farmers to invest in their farm businesses and to improve their profitability through capital investment. There will be two tiers of grants either 40% up to a maximum of £250,000.00 or 50% for young farmers or innovative projects.

The grant is being ear marked for the following:

l Construction of new farm buildings and refurbishment of existing buildings.

l Purchase of machinery which can improve the performance of the farm.

l Equipment to improve nutrient management.

l Installation of environmentally approved water management systems.

l Investments to improve resource efficiency on the farm.

l Feasibility studies for renewable energy.

Unfortunately the Grant is being delayed in Europe but DARD is hopeful that they will be able to release it at the start of September. Any agricultural building applied for under the grant scheme will need planning approval from council before a grant application can be submitted. While farm buildings less than 500m2 don’t generally require full planning permission a Certificate of Lawful Development application stamped by the council will be required to accompany each grant application.

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