Renewable Energy Targets

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:15 pm, 12th October 2020

4. Mr Catney asked the Minister for the Economy how she intends to meet the target of 70% renewable energy generation for Northern Ireland by 2030. (AQO 895/17-22)

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I will begin by clarifying that I have not yet set a 70% target. Through the development of the energy strategy, my Department is considering a number of targets. My statement on 29 September set out my belief that this should not be below 70%. However, the strategy will inform how those targets are set more formally as we go forward.

A variety of actions will be required to deliver a target of this scale. Work is ongoing to assess the need for appropriate support mechanisms, whether they be financial, regulatory or otherwise, to bring forward investment. Consideration is also being given to how to bring about a more diverse technology mix and how to further involve and engage citizens to assist in meeting our decarbonisation goals. Through the development of the energy strategy, my Department is working with key stakeholders to provide cost-effective options, which I intend to put out for public consultation in March 2021, with a view to finalising the strategy later in the year.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Minister. There is no doubt that your strategy mentions the figure of 70%. On that basis, I think that, in this climate, that target is very ambitious. Will the Minister rule out any exploration for oil and gas in Northern Ireland, including fracking?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

We are to have a debate on that tomorrow, and I will outline the position on those issues during that debate.

We have a strong pipeline of projects in the planning process. However, if we are to meet that 70% target, we will need to ensure that we have an appropriate regulatory framework and that we are able to bring forward legislation that will support companies and individuals in trying to meet it. I have looked at some of the schemes that are operating in the rest of the United Kingdom, and I am keen to extend some of them here so that we will be able to get off the baseline of that target pretty quickly. Of course, I am ever mindful of this matter, and I remind the House that 48% of electricity in Northern Ireland is generated through renewables.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Further to Mr Catney's question, and I understand the Minister's saying that there is a debate on this tomorrow, given the climate emergency, the desire and, indeed, the necessity to meet targets to reduce greenhouse gases, does the Minister agree that her Department's time would be better spent further researching and developing renewable forms of energy rather than researching the well-documented effects of practices such as fracking and then committing to a moratorium on petroleum licensing for exploration?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

Again, we will debate that in full tomorrow. The legislation that we operate under for petroleum licensing is particularly old. It requires updating, and I will bring forward research to help inform how the House and the Executive go forward with those issues. The Member will also acknowledge that I have said that, for the recovery of the economy in Northern Ireland, we want to have a greener, cleaner and more sustainable economy. The Member will see my commitment to that when the consultation documents go out on the energy strategy. Indeed, in my 'Rebuilding a Stronger Economy' document, I recognised that a greener economy is essential for the future of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Given that with renewable energy, particularly that from wind turbines, very significant costs have been passed on to electricity consumers, will the Minister undertake to publish an accurate audit of how much electricity consumers are paying for renewable energy?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

I will revert to the Member on that, but I also refer him to the regulator for a table of such costs.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

I thank the Minister for her commitment to the renewable energy scheme. Given how dependent households are on imported oil for home heating and that around 300 independent oil suppliers operate across Northern Ireland, what steps will her Department take to ensure that those operators are part of the solution and are encouraged to diversify?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

As part of the energy strategy, we have a number of different work streams to ensure that we have a complete picture of the energy that is required in Northern Ireland. Everyone is entitled to be part of those work streams. They are very wide and varied, and, of course, all will be able to respond to the consultation in March 2021.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I call Pat Sheehan. You may not have time for a supplementary.