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As I said, the most significant target in the strategic energy framework is to increase the amount of electricity from renewable sources to 40% by 2020. The primary source of financial assistance to developers whose renewable energy businesses will contribute to this challenging target is the Northern Ireland renewables obligation.
The Assembly voted for increased assistance under the NIRO for newer renewable technologies in the banding of the NIRO, which was brought in on 1 April 2009. I have also ensured that the Northern Ireland landfill gas developments are maintained at one renewables obligation certificate per megawatt hour, unlike elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is a clear case of devolution delivering for Northern Ireland. The draft strategic energy framework highlights the significant potential to generate increased economic opportunities from sustainable energy activities in Northern Ireland.
As an example of how the Government are helping businesses to make the most of those economic opportunities, Invest NI is hosting a Northern Ireland energy and environment conference in the Waterfront Hall on 14 October. The event will cover real business opportunities in wind, marine, bioenergy and other low-carbon technologies, giving businesses access to the Crown Estate, and the European Union water and United Nations procurement programmes. Invest Northern Ireland’s strategy for the renewables sector also includes a range of initiatives that is aimed at increasing the deployment of sustainable technologies and improving energy efficiency, including direct business support provided by the Carbon Trust.
Invest NI has taken on board the views of the green new deal group, which, as Members know, issued a report some months ago. The group wants to take up the opportunities provided by the green new deal, grasp them and take them forward. It has chaired the economic opportunities subgroup of the interdepartmental working group on sustainable energy. That working group specifically examines the opportunities to create green jobs and skilled development in Northern Ireland, with the aim of developing and agreeing an action plan among the relevant Departments by the end of December 2009. That section of Invest NI is examining renewable energy. It is important that that is done because there are great opportunities in that area.
Discussions are ongoing on that issue. In an earlier answer on the 10-day payment rule, I said that it is important that the Government lead, and the interdepartmental working group on sustainable energy includes representatives from across Government, who feed back into their own Departments. It is important that we hear from the government estate, especially from the Departments that own a lot of property, such as the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Education and the Department for Regional Development. We need to know what they believe to be the best way forward. In the Department for Employment and Learning, much work has been done in some colleges of further education. The Omagh campus of the South West College has carried out much work on renewable energy, and that work was done in an exemplary way.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her responses so far on the assistance that is available to businesses, which I want her to broaden. I know that she has been active and vigorous in local areas. I met her in my constituency because she was involved in a job creation project.
Has the Minister discussed the possibility of reducing rates on non-domestic vacant properties with the Minister of Finance and Personnel? That would help smaller businesses to reduce their current excruciating overheads.
We have not discussed that issue. However, to increase the energy efficiency of small companies and to decrease their energy bills, the Department puts a large amount of funding into the Carbon Trust, which visits companies and advises them what to do. In some instances, the change has been dramatic. Some large companies have saved about 17% on their energy bills because of the intervention of the Carbon Trust.
I urge small companies that are having difficulties with their energy bills, and I am sure that there are many, to consult the Carbon Trust. The organisation is willing to talk.