Energy Strategy: Update

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP 2:00, 6 December 2021

2. Mr Beattie asked the Minister for the Economy for an update on the development of the new energy strategy. (AQO 2838/17-22)

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

The policy options consultation included a commitment to publish the energy strategy before the end of 2021, and that remains that case. It is my intention to bring the energy strategy to the Executive at their next meeting, subject to the approval of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. The energy strategy has been at an advanced stage, but I wanted to consider it in the context of recent steep global energy price rises, and, through my attendance at COP26, I was able to better understand the significant economic opportunities for Northern Ireland arising from global energy decarbonisation.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

I thank the Minister for that. It is good to see that it is still on track to be out before the end of the year. Will the Minister consider, in conjunction with the Communities Minister, setting up a fuel poverty task force to deal with that very real issue, which people are facing today?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

The Member is absolutely right to recognise fuel poverty and the problems that it is causing. It has always been a significant issue in Northern Ireland but even more so now because of the unprecedented price increases and the current cost of gas, particularly the wholesale price.

The Member will be aware that fuel poverty is the direct responsibility of the Department for Communities, and it is right that the Communities Minister leads on it. However, in the medium to longer term, I want to bring forward an energy strategy that addresses those issues in that time frame to ensure that we have an affordable and secure energy supply for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

It is right that the Minister paused to ensure that COP26 is reflected in the energy strategy as well as the change in energy prices, which will not be short-term. Does he agree that the key elements of any energy strategy have to be energy security and affordability of the burden placed on consumers and businesses?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Yes, that is absolutely the case. Affordability is to the fore of all our minds right now. We recognise the impact that the cost of fuel has on those in poverty, as Mr Beattie stated. All our constituents are affected by this, not only individual constituents but businesses. That is why it is vital that affordability is at the heart of everything that we do. As well as making sure that we have more affordable energy, we can help people by ensuring that they use that energy as efficiently as possible. This will be a key part of the strategy that Executive colleagues will agree. Of course, the cheapest form of energy is that which you do not use at all. We need to look at how we can invest in buildings, in particular, to ensure that we are as energy efficient as possible.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

We have asked the Department many times about issues such as fuel poverty, and we have been told to wait for the energy strategy. We have asked about support for microgeneration, and we have been told the same thing. That is understandable up to a point, but you said today that the energy strategy will be published before the end of the year. Will you give us certainty that, when the strategy is published, you will come to the Assembly and allow us to question you on what is in it, so that we can best understand how it will meet the important questions on energy transition and affordability that all Members have?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

As a Minister, I have always opened myself up to the scrutiny of the Assembly. I am more than happy to take any questions from Members. The strategy will receive broad support. All the Departments have worked together on it. I understand and recognise the role of the House to ask questions, which may be difficult questions at times. I will be open to that.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

The Department has already indicated that we will not see any legislation from the energy strategy in this mandate. Others have already indicated the urgency of the issues, not least the need to decarbonise and the massive impact of the rising cost of energy. At the very least, will the Minister indicate what aspects of the strategy will be brought forward, and can he give a commitment that this will be done as soon as possible in the next mandate?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I am unable to give any commitment as to what happens in the next mandate. I may not be in this post, and I cannot tie the hands of any future Minister or Assembly. It will be up to them to decide. It is my job to bring the energy strategy to the Executive, and it will be up to them to decide whether to support it. However, we want to move forward with what is in the strategy as soon as possible. That is how we will make a difference and a change that will impact on people's lives, businesses and jobs.