Energy Targets Open Up Race for Greener Power

Article excerpt

Byline: Helen McGurk

The wind of change is blowing across Northern Ireland's energy sector. HELEN McGURK talks to Airtricity, the company which is helping to turn the focus from profit to the environment.

LAST month, the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment embarked on the final phase of its draft energy strategy for Northern Ireland.

The strategy sets what seems to some people to be ambitious targets for the use of non-fossil fuel energy.

In layman's terms, the Government targets state that 12 per cent of power used in Northern Ireland should be harnessed from renewable sources (wind, waves, solar) by 2012.

At a UK level, the Government has also outlined aspirations that up to 50 per cent should come from renewable sources by 2050.

The difficulty for Mark Ennis, Northern Ireland chief executive of Ireland's leading supplier of renewable energy, Airtricity, is that the Government targets fall short in terms of long-term planning and ambition.

Mark Ennis told the News Letter why the Government should have gone even further: "Use of renewable sources of energy is a vital issue for Northern Ireland and for the entire UK. The DETI consultation paper proposes a 12 per cent target for electricity produced from renewable energy sources by 2012 but only a 6.3 per cent obligation.

"In our view this is not ambitious enough. Further, I fail to see the reason why a distinction is made between the target and aspiration particularly as even the target falls short of what is possible.

"We believe that by 2012 at least 20 per cent of power requirements could be met through wind power. Airtricity already have plans which would contribute 75 per cent of that total need.

"Green energy has very practical advantages which are obvious. It enhances the environment, makes more efficient use of our natural resources and by using electricity sourced from the wind, our customers are making their own contribution to protecting the environment.

"On top of all this, renewable energy is very likely to be cheaper than gas fired electricity by 2012.

"We usually build wind farms on land owned by farmers who in turn can make up to seven times the return on their land than previously. As we take up less than 5 per cent of the land on which turbines are located, the landowner is free to carry on farming.

"Another argument in favour of renewable power supply is the instability around fossil fuels. The Government's White Paper predicts that we will be importing gas by 2006 and oil by 2010. This would create an inherent instability whereby we are bringing in fuels from markets over which we have no control.''

Airtricity is an Irish company with an international outlook. Mark, who joined the company in 2002, says it is a major player in the Republic, where it has secured 25 per cent of all planning consents for on land wind farms; it has plans in different stages of development in Northern Ireland and Scotland and is monitoring development opportunities in the USA.

However, it is also a company which knows the value and importance of engaging at a local level in real consultation. Wherever Airtricity plans to build a wind farm, no matter what the scale, the company engages in a detailed consultation process with the local community. …