That was the message from the Energy Minister, Arlene Foster as she announced the appointment of Faber Maunsell, a major UK consultancy, to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of offshore wind and marine renewables in Northern Ireland waters.
A SEA is the study of environmental issues that must be taken into early consideration when developing plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development.
The Energy Minister said: “Increasing the contribution of renewables in our energy mix is an imperative for Northern Ireland.
“To date, onshore wind has provided us with most of our renewable electricity but we must now seek to develop more of our natural assets, as we look to the future.
“The availability of more local, clean, secure and, in the case of tidal, predictable energy resources, is essential in our drive to move away from an economy almost wholly reliant on imported fossil fuels.
“The recent development of the Marine Current Turbine project at Strangford Lough has put Northern Ireland on the map for tidal marine renewables and this bodes well for the exploitation of tidal resources, particularly off the north coast.”
The marine environment is a shared resource with many stakeholder interests such as environment and ecology, fishing, shipping routes, ferry traffic, tourism as well as renewable energy. The SEA process, which is an EU requirement, will examine the potential impact of offshore wind and marine renewables on the interests of all stakeholders.
Arlene Foster continued: “A number of national and international companies have already expressed an interest in generating renewable electricity in Northern Ireland waters.
“Such developments could represent hundreds of millions of pounds of inward investment and offer the potential for more green collar jobs here, as well as giving us a secure source of energy and reducing our green house gas emissions.”
Commenting on the Energy Minister’s announcement, Ian Pritchard, Head of Offshore Operations at The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed, said: “The marine renewable sector is a nascent industry at a very exciting stage of development. We are very keen to play our part in enabling offshore wind and marine renewables in Northern Ireland as elsewhere.
“As owners of the seabed, we will be working with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) over the coming months, as the SEA progresses, to develop the programme involving a competitive application process for commercial projects in 2010.
“In the interim, The Crown Estate, DETI and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency will consider applications from developers who wish either to deploy test or demonstration stage devices.”