Wind Energy

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green 3:00 pm, 17th February 2014

6. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what assessment her Department has made on the impact of wind energy on energy prices. (AQO 5561/11-15)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Wind generation rarely sets the price of wholesale electricity, although it does influence prices on a continuing basis.  At peak demand times, wind can often offset more expensive peaking plant.  Also, if there is a lot of wind on the system, remaining demand will be met by conventional generators, with the more efficient and cheaper being dispatched first.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Minister for her answer.  It has come to the attention of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee that when wind energy can meet demand, generation costs are significantly reduced.  Does the Minister agree that to bring down price, we need to increase our investment in wind energy and reduce our over-reliance on expensive fossil fuels such as gas?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As I have always said to the Member:  it is not just about wind energy; it is about renewable energy from all the different types of technologies.  At present, we are probably over-reliant on wind as a source of renewable energy.  I hope that other sources will emerge in the future, whether it is tidal or marine, and we look forward to that coming on to the grid as well as wind.  I am carrying out a cost-benefit analysis.  I think that the time is right to do that in relation to the energy market.  We are about halfway in the strategic energy framework, therefore it is right to review the cost of energy as whole, and we will be doing that.  In fact, I have appointed consultants to do that, and that report will be with me by the end of the year.  We will then have that look at the strategic energy framework.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The UK government indicated that between 2004 and 2012, the increase in electricity bills has gone up from 2% to 8% as a result of renewable energy.  Today, industry in Northern Ireland says that we are one of the least competitive places for energy in the whole of Europe.  Does the Minister agree that, if we followed the policies of the Green Party, we would be back to the dark ages of blackouts, no competitive industry and increased fuel poverty, and that really we ought to be going for greater electricity —

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I encourage the Member to come to his question.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

— from fossil fuels, which are much less expensive?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP 3:15 pm, 17th February 2014

I agree with the Member that we need to be aware of our security of supply, and, as Members will know, in 2016, there will be only 200 megawatts above the balance.  We should be concerned about that, and we will take action on the issue over the coming months because we cannot allow ourselves to get into a position where we are at risk of blackouts.  That would be the worst-case scenario for citizens and particularly for industry and businesses.  How could we possibly say to people that they should invest in Northern Ireland if we do not have a secure energy platform on which they could come forward?  I hear what the Member is saying about energy costs.  He will know that we are looking, with the Utility Regulator, into the whole issue.  I will also say this:  every day that we are without the North/South interconnector costs £7 million to consumers in Northern Ireland alone, and it costs a significant amount — [Interruption.]

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

— of money to Republic of Ireland consumers as well.  So every day that we are without the North/South interconnector is a constraint on the energy of Northern Ireland.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

That concludes oral questions to the Minister.  We now move to topical questions.  Anna Lo is not in her place.