In a consultation paper, "Consumer Choice, Competition and Prices," McIldoon acknowledges that the Northern Ireland Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) system of support for renewables has come in for criticism for adding to electricity prices. However, he complains that it provides no means of allowing the electricity customer to consume energy in an environmentally friendly way. The creation of a market for renewable energy could meet both these criticisms, he says.
It would extend consumer choice and while electricity bills might be higher in the short term, the environmentally consciouswould have the satisfaction of knowing that they were helping the environment and creating more employment in Northern Ireland. In the longer term they would be protected from rising fuel prices and any environmental taxes imposed on fossil fuels, explains McIldoon.
The type of market he puts forward for debate is similar to a scheme in Sweden, he says. Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) -- or another supplier -- could offer its customers the opportunity to buy renewable electricity. NIE could then ask renewable generators to bid for contracts to cover the demand. Renewable energy producers would be responsible for building demand for their product and it would be the consumers, exercising their market power, who would decide the green proportion of Northern Ireland's electricity production.
The discussion paper aims to take forward the debate for widening competition in Northern Ireland. McIldoon's aim is to bring down the province's electricity prices; they are highest in the British Isles. He believes greater customer choice to be the key to achieving this. Topics under discussion include allowing generators to sell direct to customers; introducing power wheeling; allowing direct lines from generator to customer; stimulating the market for energy efficiency; the creation of more companies selling energy services and products; supply competition; and more competition in generation.