The Energy Minister, Arlene Foster, was speaking today at the Irish Wind Energy Association’s (IWEA) autumn Conference in Belfast. There, the Minister stressed that renewable energy development continues to be at the forefront of her agenda and outlined the progress to date in Northern Ireland, to increase the levels of electricity generated from renewable energy sources.
Minister Arlene Foster said: “With 99% dependence on imports to meet our energy needs, renewable energy is an imperative for Northern Ireland, to enhance security of supply, help protect against the price volatility of imported fossil fuels and to meet EU targets.
“The good news is that Northern Ireland has some enviable natural resources, in particular wind, and it is encouraging that we now have 19 windfarms across Northern Ireland.
“As a result of this development, around 6% of our electricity consumption is from renewable sources, a growth of some 60% over the past three years.”
While wind will remain the prime renewable source of electricity generation for the foreseeable future here, proposed targets for 2020 in the new European Commission (EC) Renewables Directive set out an imperative to maximise and develop all renewable technologies.
The Minister said: “The important change being introduced in this EC Directive is that the targets relate not just to electricity but to our total energy mix – including heat and transport fuels. The new directive will therefore be a key driver for increasing levels of renewables, such as bioenergy and off-shore energy, here in Northern Ireland.”
With the theme of the conference being ‘Actions for Economic Prosperity in a New Energy Era’ the Minister went on to highlight the challenges and opportunities for the renewable energy sector, and emphasised the spin-off commercial opportunities the renewable sector can bring to local industry.
Arlene Foster said: “With the implementation of the new Renewables Directive, and the challenging targets being set by it, we are certainly entering a New Energy Era – an era that will bring as many challenges as it does opportunities.
“The speed at which wind farms are being developed presents potential commercial opportunities for local engineering companies. We have seen some evidence of this to date in the work that Harland & Wolff has been doing for offshore wind farm developments in Great Britain and for the Marine Current Turbine project at Strangford Lough.
“We, in government, have a responsibility for policy in the renewable energy sector and for implementing the EC Directive. We also need industry to take advantage of the opportunities available and address the challenges so together we can help provide for a more sustainable Northern Ireland in this New Energy Era.”