A key tool for meeting the target will be an obligation on electricity suppliers to buy a proportion of their power from renewable sources from April 2004. An energy order containing provisions for a renewables obligation -- similar to the one in place in Great Britain -- became law earlier this year.
In the final consultation phase of its energy strategy, the province's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) suggests limiting the obligation to 6.3% by 2012. DETI is concerned about the increased costs in Northern Ireland, where conventional energy prices are already higher than in other countries. "There has to be a balance between a stretching target for renewables and the urgency with which we impose an obligation on suppliers," says DETI minister Ian Pearson.
Although DETI does not specify how the rest of the 12% development target for renewables is to be met, it is understood that trade of renewables obligation certificates (ROCs) with the rest of the UK is expected to boost wind development in Northern Ireland, which has an abundant resource. Plans are "well developed" for wind farms on land that will increase renewables capacity to 140 MW from the existing 37 MW. A further potential 470-560 MW has been identified over 30-40 different sites -- and a proposed 250 MW offshore wind farm is being investigated at Tunes Plateau.
Meeting the 12% could mean the transmission network will need to be strengthened or adapted. DETI argues for a "mechanism" to ensure transmission costs are recovered equitably from renewables developers of projects of 1 MW or over via a standard charge.
Northern Ireland's leading wind and biomass developer, B9 Energy, "strongly welcomes" the strategy. It sets challenging targets for renewable development for Northern Ireland, where 98% of all fuel is imported, says B9's Michael Harper.