The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said the proposal by the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) to close Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation (NIRO) for onshore wind generation in March 2016, a year earlier than planned, could cost the local farming industry at least £20 million.
UFU Rural Enterprise Chairman, Gary Hawkes, has warned that the early closure will put at risk the use of small scale farm turbines, leaving farmers out of pocket if projects already started are not finished by the new deadline. Since the NIRO was launched, the small scale wind sector has been beset by grid connection problems, which NIE’s Project 40 is supposed to tackle – but this will not be available until spring 2016 at the earliest.
“Our members who have already committed funds to a wind turbine may only be connected to the grid then. This early closure will make that too late,” said Mr Hawkes.
In its response the UFU stressed the need for a separate consultation for small scale wind and specifically urged DETI to defer the eligibility date for small scale onshore wind ‘non-cluster connections’ to the end of March 2016, and to then allow a two year grace period for connections.
“Given the many public policy statements made by DETI on renewables we believe a lack of clarity on any future support mechanisms and the early closure of the NIRO is putting an opportunity at risk,” he said.
The UFU is lobbying DETI over this as part of the consultation process and is urging individual farmers who fear they will lose out to do the same. It has been claimed that the early closure decision was made because to continue the NIRO, as planned, until March 2017, would have meant an additional cost for consumers. This has been rejected by the UFU, since any additional costs attributed to keeping the NIRO open until March 2017 for small scale wind would be minuscule. The UFU have submitted a formal response to the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment and will continue to lobby the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in London, which is driving the early closure of the NIRO here.