Renewable electricity in Northern Ireland is currently supported by Renewables Obligation Certificates, also known as ROCs. The scheme guarantees a set income from electricity generated from renewable energy sources and was scheduled to close in April 2017.
It was accepted that this closure would not deviate and many small scale generators factored this into their business plans and forward projections when making the decision to enter the sector.
In line with the anticipated closure of ROCs in Northern Ireland, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) consulted on the introduction for “grace periods” in April 2015. A “grace period” is only designed to be a “safety net” to allow for complications beyond the control of the developer and subject to strict criteria.
The UFU responded to the consultation by calling for a grace period of at least 18 months. This would allow for previously documented delays in grid connection and capital finance complications which have beset the industry for many years.
However, the policy picture changed after the General Election in May with the Department of Energy and Climate Change in GB bringing forward the closure of their ROC scheme for onshore wind to April 2016.
With Northern Ireland still some way off meeting 2020 renewables targets, we welcomed both the DETI commissioned research “Review of the costs and benefits of the Northern Ireland Executives 40% Renewable Electricity Target” and the announcement by the Minister Jonathan Bell MLA that there would be no early closure for the local ROC scheme. Yet despite this, at a meeting on 30 June, the NI Assembly ETI Committee refused to make a decision to support the scheme beyond 2016 when they discussed the SL1 Proposed Renewables Obligation Closure Order (Northern Ireland) 2015. Several members of the committee had queried the wider social cost of the continuation of the scheme until 2017.
Consequently, the ETI Committee asked DETI to return again and produce evidence to the contrary based upon DECC policy. The UFU attended the meeting the ETI Committee on 9 July at Stormont where DETI set out their reasons for wanting the closure to remain unchanged and accompanied by a grace period. Since a change in DECC policy it has been insinuated that everything will stay as it is assuming DETI can demonstrate that a grace period will be granted if a project demonstrates that it meets the following key criteria; i. Planning permission; ii. Grid connection offer and, iii. Evidence of land rights. DETI has been asked to seek further clarity on this before a final decision is made by the ETI Committee.
The UFU provided formal representation to the committee calling for them to take into consideration the role of small scale renewables on our farms and approve the introduction of a suitable grace period to accompany the closure of the NIRO in 2017. Failure to do so will cast doubt on the future of small scale renewables in the countryside and be a missed opportunity for our industry to improve energy efficiency.