That was the message from the Energy Minister, Arlene Foster as she announced the launch of the draft DETI Strategic Offshore Renewable Energy Action Plan 2009-2020 and its associated Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). A SEA assesses environmental issues that must be taken into early consideration when developing plans and programmes, with a view to promoting sustainable development.
The Minister said: “Increasing renewables is an imperative for Northern Ireland.
“To date, onshore wind has provided us with most of our renewable electricity and, while we will continue to develop this resource, we need to develop more of our natural assets to contribute to the challenging 40% renewable electricity 2020 targets I proposed in the draft Strategic Energy Framework earlier this year.
“Our proposals to develop offshore wind and marine renewables have been subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment. That assessment considers that a substantial capacity could be developed, without significant adverse effects on the environment or other marine users. It has also identified a range of mitigating actions which will be taken forward as we make progress with the plans.”
The main potential for offshore wind is on the North and South East coasts and tidal stream off the North coast. While wave resource has been identified, it is more limited and has not been included in the proposed targets.
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, has examined the potential impact of offshore wind and marine renewables on the interests of all stakeholders.
Arlene Foster added: “I am proposing to establish an Offshore Renewable Energy Forum to advise DETI on the implementation of the draft Strategic Action Plan and the actions arising from the SEA. I am keen to work further with those Departments and Agencies with marine responsibilities and with whom we have worked to date.
“I am also keen to engage further with the offshore renewable sector and stakeholders with an interest in this area. I am committed to developing Northern Ireland’s offshore renewable sector but this must be done sustainably.
“The development of this sector helps us address energy diversity and security and will also contribute to greenhouse gas reduction.
“It also offers business and employment opportunities to Northern Ireland firms, including our ports and harbours, within this growing national and international market.
“The launch today of these draft documents for a three month consultation is an important first step to realising the potential of offshore renewable energy.
“I want to ensure that our proposals are right for Northern Ireland and I would therefore seek comments from a wide range of stakeholders on our proposals.”
Commenting on the Energy Minister’s announcement, Rob Hastings, Head of the Marine Estate at The Crown Estate, said: “The marine renewable sector is a growth industry with an exciting future.
“The Crown Estate is very keen to play our part in enabling offshore renewables in Northern Ireland. We look forward to working with DETI over the coming months to develop the programme for commercial projects later in 2010-2011.”