Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has highlighted the importance of a robust energy policy for the Northern Ireland economy.
Responding to an Assembly debate on the issue, the Minister said: “I am increasingly aware that not only is energy policy a complex and often technical area, it is also massively interlinked. Energy policy must take account of a range of complex issues which have been highlighted today such as energy costs, the grid, the link between energy infrastructure and the economy, electricity generation and security of supply, and decarbonisation of the energy sector. A new Energy Strategy will deal with these issues which are of such importance to our economy as well as wider society.”
Commenting on the cost of electricity, the Minister said: “There may be a perception that electricity prices in Northern Ireland are high, but that is not the case for everyone. For Northern Ireland’s approximately 800,000 domestic customers, a recent report from the Regulator found that customers here pay just below the EU average for their electricity and considerably lower than their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, Germany and Denmark. Our smallest industrial and commercial customers – who account for around 2/3 of all of the roughly 80,000 business customers – pay slightly higher than the EU average. The remaining 34% of all business customers do pay amongst the highest amount for their electricity in the European Union. However, it is also worth noting that costs for this group remain lower than the UK average, are lower than places like Italy and are comparable to the Republic of Ireland and Germany. It is also worth remembering that the average annual domestic bill in 2016 is approximately £475 compared to nearly £700 in 2008. This represents a 32% decrease and is the lowest in 10 years. Even for large and very large industrial and commercial customers, electricity prices have dropped considerably in recent years.”
Turning to renewables the Minister said: “When the NIRO was introduced in 2005, electricity consumption from renewable sources stood at just 3%. Since then, over 900 megawatts of potential renewable electricity generation has now been connected. The latest official figures published by NISRA show that during the 12 month period between April 2015 and March 2016, 25.4% of our electricity consumption was from renewable sources such as wind, solar photovoltaic, combined heat and power and hydro. With a further 700 megawatts of committed projects with accepted grid connection offers, plus 200 megawatts of offers still to be made, I am confident the Executive’s 2020 target of 40% can be achieved over the next few years.”
Finally during the debate the Minister addressed the issue of security of supply. He said: “With the existing generation capacity at our three conventional power stations at Ballylumford, Kilroot, and Coolkeeragh, existing interconnection including the Moyle Interconnector restored to 450 megawatt transfer capacity, and the additional 250 megawatt capacity provided by the SONI-AES Reserve Services contract from January of this year, there are no concerns about meeting our electricity demand to 2020.
Efficient market arrangements for the trading of electricity, coupled with delivery of critical infrastructure such as the second North-South interconnector are essential, and they cannot be viewed in isolation.
I will continue to work closely with the Utility Regulator and SONI, the system operator, to consider how best to ensure our security of supply after 2020 and, if it is considered necessary, I will agree on further actions to safeguard our electricity supply.”
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