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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Northern Ireland to invest in a renewable energy future

£100m fund for renewable energy

by Robin Morton,

A £100m private equity fund is being set up in Northern Ireland to tap into the potential for renewable energy on both sides of the border, it was disclosed yesterday.

The move, which was announced by the NI Energy Authority (Ofreg), comes hot on the heels of Secretary of State Peter Hain's announcement of a £59m renewable energy fund which was unveiled on Monday.

Ofreg said it was vital that Northern Ireland benefited as much as possible from the opportunity created by Peter Hain's initiative.

As a first step, it said, the renewable equity fund (REF) is to receive an investment of £10m from NI Energy Holdings, the mutual company that owns the Moyle Interconnector.

Ofreg said it had approved NIEH's request to commit £10m to the fund, and said the money would be drawn down as and when good quality projects were developed.

It added: "It is envisaged that the fund will be sold once the portfolio of projects has been constructed and commissioned, and are fully operational.

"This should happen between five and 10 years after the establishment of the fund."

The £10m being put up by NIEH is part of the £30m rebate the company received as a result of a restructuring of the electricity trading system in Britain.

The issue was raised in a discussion paper put out by Ofreg inviting views as to what the best use would be for the £30m.

Ofreg listed a number of options, ranging from the acquisition of part of Northern Ireland Electricity's asset base to financing an energy efficiency programme.

Last month, NIEH announced that it was subscribing £12.4m of accumulated profits to help offset this year's NIE's tariff increase.

The company, which insists its primary aim is to bring long-term benefits to energy consumers, has resisted demands from NIE calls for the rest of the cash to be handed over.

A spokesman for NIEH said they would study Ofreg's report closely and make a response.

"We have a track record of managing energy assets at the lowest possible cost to the consumer," he added.

"We welcome this consultation paper, and the approval it contains for our £10m investment in the REF."

Robin Greer of NIE said: "We believe that full consideration should be given to ensuring customers get the best deal from Moyle's £30m windfall financial surplus.

"In our view options include providing immediate relief against rising international fuel costs, and ensuring customers are protected against the burden of expected future deficits incurred by the Moyle Interconnector."

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