NI planning system needs radical revision’ to meet targets

According to a renewable-energy organisation, problems in the planning system in Northern Ireland are putting the environment, economy, and employment at risk.

RenewableNI states that the system is in need of “radical change”.

According to the report, only 75% of the Planning Appeals Commission’s (PAC) capacity is being used and there are significant pressures on resources.

The organization said a member had received a letter confirming that.

BBC News NI contacted PAC in order to obtain a reply.

Stephen Agnew, the director of energy at the Directorate for Energy Efficiency and Renewables (DEERE), said that 85,000 homes have been waiting for renewable energy to be installed for over three years.

Northern Ireland has set a goal of 80% electricity from renewable resources by 2030.

Director of RenewableNI Stephen Agnew

Stephen Agnew said there were concerns regarding the PAC’s ability to move at a pace when it is operating at 100% capacity

RenewableNI stated that the letter stated that the PAC lacked the resources to assign a commissioner for a review of a new renewable electricity development.

In the letter, “significant pressures on resources” were cited. “A major conjoined inquiry” is currently using them all.

Also, it was suggested that only one inquiry could be carried out at a time.

RenewableNI’s Mr Agnew previously expressed concerns over the PAC’s ability to operate at 100% capacity.

He said that the system is “unfit for its purpose” and a “substantial obstacle” for all developers.

“To achieve 80% renewables by 2030, we will need to double the capacity of our renewable energy sources. We are not pursuing these projects. You will not reach these targets if you keep doing business as usual.

“If we reach our 80% renewable target by 2030, that could bring over £5bn of new investment to Northern Ireland and create 1,500 plus jobs. That’s what the potential is.

“We need to create a system which facilitates this.”

Some worry that renewable energy investment in Northern Ireland may be reduced without reform.

Tamasin Fraser, UK director of ABO Wind

Tamasin believes that planning issues could lead to Northern Ireland missing out on investment in green energy.

“There is an enormous risk that investments will be lost in Northern Ireland, and we will fail to reach our 80% goals,” said Tamasin fraser, UK director at the German green-energy firm ABO Wind.

“In order to get to those targets it’s going to take a £1bn investment in Northern Ireland. In other countries, they make significant progress to move forward with the planning and ensure that the project is achieved. “We’re not in a position to do that.”

She added: “So the question for me is, are we willing to stand by and watch £1bn of investment go to our neighbours and further afield?

“Or are you prepared to step forward, to take action and to make tangible changes so that we can secure this investment for the benefit of Northern Ireland? To bring about better energy safety in Northern Ireland as well as to address the energy crisis?”

No timeline for Northern Ireland

Another company has found that the Republic of Ireland’s planning process is much easier.

Strategic Power Projects has more than €1bn (£870m) worth of projects in the pipeline, with one project taking just five months from application to approval, in accordance with the time limits of the Republic’s system. Paul Carson, managing director of the solar and storage-battery specialist, said that Northern Ireland does not have such a certainty.

“There’s no timeline for Northern Ireland, we don’t even know,” Mr Carson said.

“When a builder is making an investment, they will always invest where there’s confidence and where there’s certainty.

Strategic Power Projects Managing Director Paul Carson

Paul Carson: Renewable energy companies don’t have confidence in Northern Ireland planning system

“At this moment, we have no confidence or certainty in the planning system of Northern Ireland. We don’t even know when the decision will be made. You can’t run your business on this basis.

“But, we are also working to develop new projects for Northern Ireland. If we see a shift in how planning is handled in Northern Ireland, then we’ll have these projects ready to submit. We all have to work together to reach her 2030 target.

Mr Carson claimed that the renewable electricity industry has accepted a fee hike, despite NI’s already being the island with the highest planning fees.

He said: “However, the fees we charge should reflect the value of the money spent and the system’s resources should be adequate to meet user needs.”

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