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A step in the right direction for wind and solar farms in Northern Ireland

It is no secret that development of new wind farms and solar farms has slowed down in Northern Ireland since David Cameron’s Government closed the renewable obligation support scheme in 2018. Currently, without additional support most new wind farms and solar farms are not financially viable. However, things may now be looking up for the industry, writes Mark Stockdale, Partner, A&L Goodbody.

Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s announcement to the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday 06 October that the UK would become “the world leader in clean wind energy” is certainly encouraging. This announcement came a week after a similar promise from Diane Dodds MLA, the Northern Ireland Minister for the Economy, who set out her plans for a new energy strategy. This will, we are told, include a new target of at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030.

In order to achieve this target, Northern Ireland will need to install much more wind, solar and other renewable generation, which will require significant private investment and new government support. The Department for the Economy (DfE) recently closed a public consultation and is expected to publish its final energy strategy in November 2021. No details have been given yet, but we expect that it will include some form of support for renewable energy.

DfE has previously made suggestions that Northern Ireland could join the GB Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, but discussions appear to still be at an early stage. We understand that other forms of support are also being explored.

The Republic of Ireland has been through a similar process recently and awarded subsidy contracts under its RESS scheme over the summer of 2020, which took almost two years to design and implement.

We would hope that Northern Ireland would be able to leverage the experience of the UK and Irish schemes, however we anticipate that any new support scheme would not be in place before the end of 2022.

Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction which may give the industry the confidence to begin again to invest in new projects.

To contact Mark Stockdale at A&L Goodbody email [email protected]