September 16, 2008

Energy Crises ‘Will Be Norm Without Action on Imports’


Northern Ireland will lurch from energy crisis to energy crisis unless the Executive takes immediate action to cut our reliance on imported power.

That's the stark warning from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which is warning that not only could fuel poverty grow but our business competitiveness could be hampered unless Northern Ireland's energy inefficiency is tackled quickly.

People are under severe pressure as household energy bills rise and need support to ensure they can heat their homes this winter - but the Executive also needs to come up with long-term plans to boost energy efficiency and increase energy security, RICS said.

Otherwise, energy crises like the present could become the norm, it warned as it published long-term proposals to reduce energy usage and support the creation of a more secure local energy supply.

Northern Ireland chairman John Davidson said: "Northern Ireland is a highly energy inefficient society, which has significant economic implications as well as severe environmental consequences.

"Unless fundamental change occurs to significantly improve energy efficiency and to reduce our reliance on energy imports, we will lurch from energy crisis to energy crisis. Levels of fuel poverty will continue to grow and business competitiveness will be increasingly hampered. Unless we take major action our ecological footprint will also remain much higher than most other parts of Europe.

"RICS Northern Ireland published its manifesto in April of this year, urging the Executive to take urgent measures to improve energy efficiency and create a more secure energy supply. Some important steps like the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates have been taken, but much more needs to be done."

The Executive should introduce temporary rates relief at once for householders who boost the energy efficiency of their home by installing measures such as cavity wall and loft insulation, he said.

"Building regulations should also be further tightened to increase the energy efficiency of our building stock, particularly the private rented housing sector," Mr Davidson said.

"The Executive must also take action to ensure more of our energy needs are met by renewable sources such as wind, waste, tidal power and biomass.

"Planning policy should support the creation of more sustainable communities which are less reliant on car transport and therefore less exposed to volatile global oil prices. Greater prioritisation should also be given to investment in our rail network."

A spokesman for the Department of Finance and Personnel said EPCs will be compulsory by the end of the year and will help make homes more energy efficient and cheaper to run.

"We are currently consulting on proposals to provide rate rebates for energy efficient and zero carbon homes. The proposals include the provision of a rate rebate to householders who make energy efficiency improvements such as cavity wall and loft insulation, as well as a proposal to provide an exemption for rates for up to five years for the first residents for new homes that meet the proposed new zero carbon standards," he said.

A DRD spokesperson said: "On rail, the Department will be funding investment of some Pounds 137m over the next three years. This will go toward the acquisition of 20 new trains. Later this year work will commence on a track life extension project on the rail between Ballymena and Coleraine and planning will begin on a complete relay of the track between Coleraine and Derry.

"Other schemes which are being taken forward include the upgrade of the rail track between Lisburn and Lurgan and the building of a new railway station at Newry."

The DoE said it is seeking the view of the Environment Committee and Executive on emerging proposals for planning reform.

"Until we receive their views it would, therefore, be inappropriate for the Planning Service or the Minister to comment at this stage until the public consultation document is released," a spokesperson said.

"When the public consultation document is released a number of stakeholder events will be held allowing for as much engagement and involvement as possible."

Energy Minister Arlene Foster promised Northern Ireland would meet its current renewable electricity targets of 12% by 2012, mainly as a result of large scale onshore wind projects.

"My Department is currently leading cross-departmental work on the sustainable development of bioenergy, and is leading a programme of work to facilitate private sector investment in offshore wind and marine renewables in Northern Ireland waters.

"In addition, we are working with neighbouring administrations to support further research into alternative energy sources.

"Northern Ireland will put forward a 2020 renewables target for consultation next year which will provide key stakeholders including the RICS an opportunity to have their say."

Originally published by LINDA McKEE ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT [email protected]

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