Solar Energy and Proposed Changes to the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation

November 8, 2013

The Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO), operating in tandem with similar obligations in Great Britain, places a legal requirement on energy suppliers to account for a specified and increasing proportion of their electricity to have been derived from renewables sources. Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are issued to generators of renewable electricity by energy suppliers for each unit of eligible output providing evidence of compliance with the NIRO. The number of ROCs issued for each MWh is dependent upon the type of technology involved and its generating capacity.

On 1 May 2013 the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland, following its own consultation and consultations and proposals from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, introduced new bands of support for solar photovoltaics (solar panels) above 250kW. Support was reduced, in line with the rest of the United Kingdom, from 2 ROCs/MWh to 1.6 ROCs/MWh in 2013/14, to 1.4 ROCs/MWh in 2014/15, to 1.3 ROCs/MWh in 2015/16 and 1.2 ROCs/MWh in 2016/17.

Following these changes a number of concerns have been raised about their viability suggesting that a different approach should be established in Northern Ireland as opposed the rest of the United Kingdom. These concerns include the relative immaturity of the solar industry in Northern Ireland, the longer lead in times in Northern Ireland of upwards of eighteen months compared to between three and eighteen months in Great Britain and the lower levels of irradiance in Northern Ireland, the average is 4.5 kWh/m2 /day in June in Belfast compared to 4.9 kWh/m2 /day in June in Southern England.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment have responded to these concerns by proposing new support levels for solar power as follows; retaining the current level of 1.6 ROCs/MWh before reducing this to the slightly higher level than previously proposed of 1.5 ROCs/MWh and 1.4 ROCs/MWh for 2014/15 and 2015/16 respectively. This would then be reduced to 1.2 ROCs/MWh in 2016/17 as before. At the start of October Energy Minister, Arlene Foster launched a consultation on proposed changes with the consultation asking “Do you agree with the proposed new banding levels for ground-mounted solar PV generating stations above 250kW?” Responses to this consultation are required by the Department by 24 December 2013.

Should you require any further information about the contents of this article, or you wish to respond to the consultation and require advice, please do not hesitate to contact Joe Marley at:

Email: J.Marley@cfrlaw.co.uk
Telephone: 028 90271363.