5 October 2023

Headwinds and tailwinds on the journey to 80 per cent by 2030

Written by Neasa Quigley

Significant reform is required if Northern Ireland is to meet the target set for renewable electricity consumption by 2030.

The renewables sector in Northern Ireland is facing serious headwinds. That is not news to anyone working in the sector over the past six years or so. It is striking though that only 30MW of additional renewables capacity was added last year, compared to up to 400MW annually in the period of peak
development to 2016.

A recent report commissioned by Renewable NI, the industry body, and produced by KPMG, confirms that Northern Ireland will struggle to meet the target set for renewable electricity generation without significant reform.

The factors contributing to those headwinds are grid capacity for both new and existing assets, the absence of a support scheme for new projects and the planning system, notably timelines in progressing applications and inconsistencies in decision-making across councils. Again, these factors are well-known to the industry and should be well-known to policymakers.

The report concludes that based on our current regime it will simply not be possible to achieve the target set by the Northern Ireland Executive just before it collapsed in 2022, of 80 per cent renewable electricity consumption by 2030. It makes a variety of recommendations garnered from consulting with stakeholders about how the deployment of renewables might be accelerated, including:

Grid

• anticipatory investment in grid network so that capacity is available for new projects ahead of time could significantly decrease overall deployment times;
• closer collaboration between NIE and industry to enable considered planning for future demand in terms of project location and scale;
• incentivising the development of generation close to areas of high demand would facilitate reduced
costs and facilitate more rapid development of the network; and
• empowering the Utility Regulator to consider environmental and climate priorities would support necessary grid development

Planning

• introduce clearly defined realistic timelines for planning decisions and
response times from statutory consultees;
• introduce an oversight function to measure performance by local councils and Department for
Infrastructure of KPIs set against statutory targets; and
• increase resources at local council and Department for Infrastructure levels to cope with expected
increased demand for applications and create a central pool of resource to be deployed to areas of
high demand.

Route to Market

• publish a timeline for implementation of support scheme;
• no mandatory participation in any new support scheme so that investors/generators have flexibility
around investment models; and
• fast-tracking of new renewables projects through planning and grid to allow participation of newprojects in initial auctions.

The sector rose to the previous challenge set by the government, achieving the 40 per cent target ahead of the 2020 deadline. Let us hope that a functioning Executive resumes and acts as the tailwind to facilitate successful achievement of the 2030 targets.

If you would like any further information or advice on these issues, please contact Neasa Quigley from the Energy & Renewables team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

About the author

Neasa Quigley

Partner

Neasa Quigley is Senior Partner at Carson McDowell. Neasa’s corporate practice focuses on mergers and acquisitions, private equity and venture capital fund raisings, joint-ventures and corporate finance. She has over 24 years’ experience as a corporate lawyer, throughout her career in Dublin and Belfast, working across a number of sectors but specialising in the energy and technology sectors.

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