Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has warned that Northern Ireland faces “difficult questions” over future electricity pricing and the funding of renewable energy.
The Minister was speaking as she urged consumers to have their say on a new ‘Contracts for Difference’ (CFD) scheme aimed at reducing the cost of supporting renewable and low carbon electricity deployment.
At present the current system guarantees subsidies for all renewable energy projects, but that will end in 2017 to be replaced by the UK-wide CFD scheme that will see competition for payments.
It means an end to guaranteed subsidies in the province, prompting a warning in a report from the Minister’s department that consumer bill may have to rise to compensate.
That charge is currently around £17 a year on average but could rise to £50 the report claims.
Urging people to respond to the Department of Energy and Climate Change Call for Evidence on how the CFD scheme could work in Northern Ireland, Mrs Foster said: “The CFD scheme raises difficult questions for Northern Ireland in terms of cost to electricity consumers, our ability to operate devolved energy policy, the further contribution we should make to renewable targets and the economic impact of renewables.”
Highlighting the success of achieving the Executive’s 2015 Programme for Government target of 20 per cent renewable energy generation, she said that was a tribute to the renewables sector that had “risen to the challenge of delivering green energy to meet a significant portion of our needs”.
“Nonetheless, looking to the future I have to be mindful of affordability to consumers. This is why I’m seeking the views of stakeholders,” she added.
“I have issued a discussion paper which looks at the specific strategic policy issues that implementing CFDs will bring for local consumers and the difficult questions they pose for Northern Ireland.
“The Renewables Obligation represented good value for money for Northern Ireland with lower consumer cost and local development.
“However, joining the EMR scheme will mean Northern Ireland consumers contributing more with no guarantee of local development.
“It is important that stakeholders engage in this process to ensure that UK-wide CFDs are able to work within Northern Ireland’s different regulatory and market environment, and that all of the issues are thoroughly considered in the policy process.”