The amount of onshore wind power that is connected to the Northern Ireland energy grid has passed the 1-gigawatt mark for the very first time, meaning that almost a quarter of the region’s electricity comes from the renewable energy source.
New data from NI Electricity Network has revealed the increase in connections just weeks after official figures showed that onshore wind rose to make up over 22% of Northern Ireland’s electricity in the 12 months to the end of March. By contrast, onshore wind farms make up only 6% of the electricity energy production across the entire UK as a whole.
The climate-sceptic Democratic Unionist Party has presided over the onshore wind boom despite its political ambivalence to the environmental concerns that wind turbines bring with them when they are erected.
Emma Pincheck, from Renewable UK, said the driver has been chiefly economic. “It sometimes gets overlooked in Westminster, but energy is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland,” she said. “Since 2010, we have seen a practical attitude and growth in support for clean energy projects which deliver investment and jobs into local communities.”
The Westminster-led subsidy scheme, the Renewables Obligation, shut its doors to onshore wind farms just over a year ago after former Prime Minister David Cameron said “enough is enough” for onshore wind turbines. Now Northern Ireland is in the middle of putting together a new sustainable energy strategy with cross-party support for renewable energy investment to flow into low-cost technologies to help keep a cap on consumer bills.
Northern Island’s Financial Pressure
Just like mainland UK, Northern Ireland is under financial pressure to attract substantial investment in renewable energy generation as older fossil fuel plants continue to shut down steadily. It currently relies heavily on imports from the Republic of Ireland but is eager to reduce this dependence and continue shifting more towards renewable wind energy.
“Northern Ireland needs power and wants it to be cheap and to support the local economy. It’s a virtuous circle,” said Ms Pincheck. “Onshore wind power is low cost, and many major developers have sought out projects in Northern Ireland because the wind resources are so good there. This, in turn, means more benefits flow back to consumers, businesses and government alike,” she said.
Northern Ireland’s onshore wind industry has attracted £127.4m of local investment in 2017 alone and hosts major onshore wind turbine projects from renewable energy developers including SSE, RES and local company Gaelectric.