Calls for obligation for least cost growth -- Northern Ireland gets strategic

Britain's new support system for renewable energy -- the Renewables Obligation (RO) -- should be extended to Northern Ireland, says Northern Ireland's wind energy community. Both the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) and B9, the province's leading renewable energy developer, argue in favour of an extension in their responses to a consultation by the Northern Ireland regulator, Douglas McIldoon, on how to accelerate the trade of renewable electricity. The British RO is to start in January and will require electricity retailers in England, Scotland and Wales to provide 3% of their power from renewables, rising to 10% by 2010. A retailer that fails to obtain enough Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) to meet the obligation must "buy out" of the obligation at a rate of £0.03/kWh.

Introducing the obligation into Northern Ireland would allow renewable energy to be traded with the rest of the UK, points out B9. "It is essential that OFREG (the Office for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas) recognises that the introduction of such a renewables obligation in Northern Ireland would represent for the Northern Ireland consumer the least cost mechanism for bringing forward renewable energy projects," the company says. If generators were able to trade ROCs within a UK wide obligation, Northern Ireland consumers could benefit from exports of the certificates without having to export the underlying electricity, B9 continues. "This is crucial since no other system of support would provide any opportunity to generate export income which can ... subsidise the domestic cost of electricity."

Balancing imbalance

The consultation by OFREG sought views on how the market structure in Northern Ireland could be changed to encourage more renewable generation within the existing regulatory framework. A key area of concern to McIldoon is Northern Ireland's arrangements to cope with imbalances of supply and demand for electricity -- particularly for variable generation like wind. Present prices for "top-up and spill" place the full risk of imbalance on smaller renewables suppliers. This has been a factor discouraging commercial wind generators from entering the market, he says.

McIldoon also proposes net metering for small scale producers -- allowing them to offset their own electricity consumption with their own supply without any additional costs from the grid operator. This would simplify or lower charges to renewable suppliers for the use of the transmission network, rewarding embedded generation which helps avoid network reinforcements. At the same time it would create "green corridors" by reserving capacity on interconnectors with Britain and Ireland for renewable traders. McIldoon's recognition of the role of the regulator in ensuring the rapid expansion of the use of renewable energy is in stark contrast to that of his counterpart in England, Callum McCarthy.

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