Job Fears

Job Fears

Up to four
thousand jobs could be lost in the small-scale renewable energy sector if
Northern Ireland fails to find a replacement for Renewable Obligation
Certificates or ROCs, which won’t be available to sustain new installations
after March 2017.

Michael
Doran, the Director of Action Renewables, issued the warning following the
revelation by DETI that there is no guarantee that solar panels or small wind
turbines will receive support under the GB Feed in Tariff system which has been
set up as a substitute for ROCs.

While the
large scale renewable sector appears much better protected, there are fears it
too is facing the risk of lower investment and a loss of employment from the
ending of the ROCs scheme

Those
latter concerns surfaced at a recent energy conference.

The event
at Riddell Hall was organised to consider the implications of Electricity
Market Reform, the initiative by the Department of Energy and Climate to reduce
the money it is spending to support the greening of the UK economy.

From April
2017 large-scale wind farm developers will have to bid against their
counterparts in Great Britain for Contracts for Differences or CfDs, which are
essentially the replacement for ROCs. While the industry here insists it can
successfully compete, there is a concern that, at the very least, fewer
turbines will be erected than was once expected.

The
Conference heard that such a development could have serious implications for
our attempt to woo large US investors, which are increasingly seeking to power
their production with green electricity.

The Managing
Director of generation and supply company Energia Tom Gillen told delegates
that US giant computer firm Apple had insisted that its new data centre in
Athenry in Co Galway be wholly powered by renewable electricity.

Media
reports suggest that the data centre will require 300 MW of capacity to support
its iTunes, Maps and Siri services.

While the
company has not indicated what source of renewable generation, it favours,
onshore wind looks a probably contender. That could mean investment of over
£300 million in wind farm development.

Despite the
availability of such a blue chip customer, it appears subsidies will still be
important. Apple says generation proposals must be eligible for the Republic’s
REFIT system of support.

The
implications are obvious. If Northern Ireland is to in a position to attract similar
high tech companies which wish to de-carbonise their production, it needs the
guarantee of subsidies to underpin new wind farm proposals. And right now that
is far from certain.

One
solution being canvassed is the securing for Northern Ireland of a guaranteed proportion
of CfDs. That would not be possible however under the existing EMR proposals.

Another option
in theory would be to adopt the REFIT regime which obtains in the Republic. But
in addition to the technical and financial difficulties involved, that plan
would be fraught with political problems.


Last updated on 11/05/2016

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