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North West could become economic powerhouse in decarbonisation drive

The North West could attract significant economic investment as a result of efforts to decarbonise Northern Ireland’s energy sector. That was the message delivered to Londonderry Chamber of Commerce members at a recent event about the future of the region’s electricity transmission grid.

SONI, the company that plans and operates Northern Ireland’s power grid, is currently carrying out a major public consultation on how it will develop the network to handle increasing levels of renewable electricity in the next ten years.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds MLA has stated that by 2030 at least 70% of Northern Ireland’s electricity should come from renewables. If this target is to be met, it will require radical changes to how the grid is developed.

The consultation presents four potential approaches that SONI can take to deliver the infrastructure needed by 2030. One of the options would see a change in government policy that would lead to new, large electricity users like big tech and pharmaceutical companies, as well as data centres, having to locate close to where clean energy is produced.

Given the amount of renewable electricity that is generated in the North West, this could mean an increase in foreign direct investment and job creation in the region. However, if this approach is to succeed, it will require agreement from large electricity users to locate in preferred locations.

Other options being considered include putting new clean energy projects closer to where most power is used, such as Derry/ Londonderry and Belfast; using new technology to shift power from the North West to the Greater Belfast area; or taking a developer-led approach and connecting wind farms and solar farms wherever they are built.

Each option brings its own opportunities and challenges and will involve new infrastructure projects and different levels of cost which will ultimately be paid for by Northern Ireland electricity consumers. Therefore, SONI is asking everyone to take part in the consultation and have their say.

Natasha Sayee, Head of External Communications at SONI said:

“Preparing the transmission grid to handle at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030 presents huge challenges, but as Londonderry Chamber members have heard, significant opportunities, too.

“The drive to decarbonise our society and economy means the North West has the potential to benefit from its position as Northern Ireland’s green energy powerhouse, which is good news for everyone, not least local businesses and employers.

“At SONI we recognise the role Londonderry Chamber plays in growing the local economy and supporting it’s members and we’re pleased to be engaging directly with them as part of the ‘Shaping Our Electricity Future’ consultation.

CEO of Londonderry Chamber, Paul Clancy added:

“With the economic impact of the pandemic still looming we need to look at innovative and sustainable ways to develop our economy here in the North West.

“As we have heard from SONI, local businesses and employers can play a full part in and benefit from the Green Recovery as Northern Ireland transitions to net zero carbon emissions.

“We welcome this engagement with SONI on the ‘Shaping Our Electricity Future’ consultation and we are encouraging all Londonderry Chamber members to get involved and have their say.”

People can find out more about the public consultation and how to have their say in Shaping Northern Ireland’s Electricity Future by visiting https://consult.soni.ltd.uk

You can also participate by emailing [email protected] or via post to Shaping Our Electricity Future, SONI, 12 Manse Road, Belfast, BT6 9RT.