RenewableNI issued a stark warning in response to news from the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) that it will not begin to consider planning appeals lodged for critical renewable energy projects until 2025/26.
In recent correspondence, the PAC confirmed that the conjoined Public Inquiry for the Dalradian gold mine project requires a significant proportion of its limited resources and as such work won’t begin on other projects that have been referred to the Commission for at least another 12 months.
PAC stated they were “experiencing significant resourcing pressures” that not only were they understaffed but 75 per cent of staff were new to post.
Steven Agnew, RenewableNI Director, said:
“PAC has confirmed in a letter to a RenewableNI member that staffing issues will continue for the medium term.
“Planning timelines, combined with route-to market and grid challenges, mean we are already facing an uphill struggle to meet the target of 80 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2030. We need planning consent for projects no later than 2027 to connect by 2030. In terms of planning, we do not have six years, we have three.
“The PAC’s current position seriously jeopardises investment in Northern Ireland that is critical to our local economy and Climate Change ambitions.”
Leading renewable energy company ABO Wind currently has two major wind farm projects waiting in line for PAC hearings. If developed, the projects will involve a combined private investment of almost £52 million and will create enough renewable electricity to power almost 50,000 homes. They will also result in community benefit funds with a total value of over £5 million.
Patricia McGrath, Head of Project Development for ABO Wind in Northern Ireland, said: “Delivering renewable energy projects in Northern Ireland brings unique challenges and this creates a further competitive disadvantage as we try to compete on the global stage.
“The PAC’s timelines mean the planning applications for two of ABO Wind’s projects won’t be considered until almost three years after they were referred to the Commission. That is far beyond any reasonable amount of time applicants should be expected to wait; and it is directly impacting Northern Ireland’s ability to meet its legally binding Climate Change targets.
“We appreciate the PAC is experiencing resourcing pressures and would support steps being taken for that to be addressed. Enabling these projects to progress without delay will lead to significant benefits across Northern Ireland.
“Our renewable energy sector has world-class people with a proven track record of delivery. But an effective planning process is essential if we are to grow the green economy and attract and retain the investment needed to deliver sustainable jobs and infrastructure now and in the future.”
Steven Agnew concluded: “The projects already with the PAC not expecting an outcome in the next two years, we are deeply concerned for those projects that will be referred to appeal going forward.
“The Department for Infrastructure need to justify when they are making referrals to PAC given the resourcing issues. These are at their discretion, and they could be making the decisions themselves or appointing an independent commissioner where necessary.
“RenewableNI has called for the urgent creation of an Accelerating Renewables Task Force to ensure NI gets back on track for meeting its renewables target.”
For media inquiries please contact Judith Rance, Communications and Events Manager, RenewableNI, Judith.Rance@RenewableNI.com, 07875-681-794.
Notes to editors
- A copy of the PAC letter is available upon request for reference only.
- DfI received seven regionally significant applications between FY 2016/17 and 2022/23 – in this same period, they referred 12 applications to the PAC for public inquiry or hearing. Tables containing this information in full is available on request to Judith Rance.
- RenewableNI represents member companies and organisations who are working together to generate 80% of Northern Ireland’s electricity needs through renewable projects by 2030.