Grid Connection Charges

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 29 April 2024.

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Photo of Eóin Tennyson Eóin Tennyson Alliance 3:00, 29 April 2024

6. Mr Tennyson asked the Minister for the Economy whether his Department plans to introduce socialisation of grid connection charges. (AQO 358/22-27)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I plan to introduce socialisation of grid connection charges. Socialisation of connection charges is an important step in removing the current high cost barrier to the mass adoption of heat pumps and electric vehicles. It will create opportunities for businesses to decarbonise and is a key enabler in meeting our net zero targets.

Precise details of how that will work will need to be worked through. My Department conducted a joint call for evidence on Northern Ireland's connection charging policy with the Utility Regulator late last year. A paper summarising the responses to the joint call for evidence will be published shortly. Officials from my Department, along with the Utility Regulator, are assessing the evidence with a view to publishing an options paper for consultation in June.

Photo of Eóin Tennyson Eóin Tennyson Alliance

I thank the Minister. That is positive news. The Minister will be aware that the cost of connection, lack of market support and planning timelines are the three big barriers that are always cited by the renewables sector. Further to his announcement about connection charging, what engagement has the Minister had with his colleague in the Department for Infrastructure about planning improvement programmes?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Last summer, when the parties who were going to make up the Executive met, we talked about planning reform, not in the sense of planning policy but in the sense of improving planning systems and getting decisions to be taken quickly. There was broad agreement across all the parties. I have not had an opportunity for direct engagement on that, but I have no doubt that, when we produce the paper, it will take me into a conversation. The Member is correct to say that a number of factors are cited that will move us further down the renewable energy path, which we need to do. According to the targets that have been set for us for 2030 and 2050, we need to move quickly into that area. Anything that provides a barrier to that needs to be addressed, certainly when it comes to the systems of government.

Photo of Áine Murphy Áine Murphy Sinn Féin

Minister, given that grid connection tends to be a lot more difficult to achieve in rural areas, do you agree that the socialisation of costs will promote regional balance?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Yes, it will. The Member will know, as I do, from representing rural areas that connection charges can be prohibitive because of the isolated topography. The opportunity to socialise charges will assist people to get support for building their own homes or establishing small businesses or businesses in rural areas. It is an important factor in ensuring that we have more regional balance and move towards meeting our net zero targets.