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Climate: MPs cast doubt on Stormont meeting net zero target

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John Campbell,BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

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MPs have cast doubt on the ability of the Northern Ireland Executive to hit its ambitious renewable energy and net zero targets.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said there is currently inadequate infrastructure to support energy transition, an unsupportive policy environment and a lack of consumer awareness.

The executive’s aims are for Northern Ireland to generate 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The committee said recent data suggests neither target is on course to be hit.

It held three formal oral evidence sessions as well as considering written submissions.

The committee chairman, Sir Robert Buckland, said the evidence had “coalesced around three key barriers to NI achieving its net zero goals”.

Those were infrastructure, policy and consumer awareness.

The key infrastructure issue was that the electricity grid currently lacks the capacity to “support a full transition to renewable electricity.”

NIE Networks, which owns the grid, is planning to invest over £3bn in the next decade which will mean an additional cost to customers of about £10 to £20 a year.

‘Disjointed planning policy’

Paulo Nunes dos Santos/Bloomberg via Getty Images Cows graze on a field beside wind turbines on Slieve Rushen wind farm, in Derrylin, County Fermanagh, Northern IrelandPaulo Nunes dos Santos/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The infrastructure to support energy transition is inadequate, the committee says

The key policy issues were identified as “a disjointed planning policy and the lack of a renewable support scheme”.

The committee heard that investment in renewables, particularly wind, has declined markedly in recent years due to unsupportive policy.

In April the Department for the Economy said a new support scheme to encourage renewable energy generation could be operational next year.

It intends to introduce a competitive auction process, similar to those seen in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The first auction could be held next year with projects delivered by 2027.

Out of reach

The committee also heard that consumer awareness of Northern Ireland’s net zero targets and how people might contribute to their achievement is low.

It heard support for an online consumer “one-stop shop” for impartial information on renewables transition and net zero targets as a means of raising consumer awareness of renewables targets and how they contribute to them.

The Executive is planning such a “one-stop shop” as part of its energy strategy although the details are yet to be finalised.

In April the Scottish government had to announce a reset of its climate targets having accepted that the target of cutting emissions by 75% by 2030 was out of reach.

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