The length of time needed by Northern Ireland planning authorities to process applications for renewable energy projects are placing ambitions to reach 80% renewable electricity capacities by 2030 in jeopardy, according to RenewableNI’s latest Energy Strategy seminar yesterday in Belfast.

“Our developers and investors are faced with a two to five year waiting time for their applications compared to 59 weeks in Ireland,” says RenewableNI director Steven Agnew.

“We are now in a climate emergency and urge the planning authorities to properly resource the decision-making teams and processes to dramatically shorten times required,” he says. “We know the Department for the Economy is aware of the urgency of the matter. Now it is up to those other departments, and local councils,  involved in planning to display a commitment to immediate action.”

The seminar which was addressed by Zoe Crowe from the Department for the Economy and Niamh Collins from law firm A&L Goodbody, the seminar sponsors, was attended by 70 representatives from the renewable electricity sector.

Mr Agnew says there is increasing concern that red tape may strangle Northern Ireland’s clean energy ambitions before they get a chance to generate one watt of electricity.

“We have seen great progress at policy level in Northern Ireland and there is a real sense that government and particularly the Department for the Economy  understands the urgency of achieving clean energy targets. But developers face increasingly strong head winds as they seek permits to operate offshore and onshore wind energy plants.” he says.

“There was already a depressed market in Northern Ireland and now investor confidence has been further hit thanks to the imposed windfall tax on low-carbon power generators, rampant cost inflation and increasing competition from abroad as the USA lures investors with subsidies through its new Inflation Reduction Act.

“But top of the list are the twin challenges of securing planning permissions and grid connections. It can take five years to gain consent for an offshore wind farm and that’s before being able to get near Northern Ireland’s grid,” says Mr Agnew.

“The Energy Strategy Action Plan can help us address some of these issues, but we need to see collaboration across government departments and agencies.”

The seminar focused on Energy Strategy 2023 Action, published in March.

Find out more about the renewable energy seminar series.