Northern Ireland's new energy strategy - The Path to Net Zero - will create jobs and lead to more affordable energy, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said today.
The Minister was speaking as he launched a 22-point Action Plan for the Path to Net Zero Energy and as NIE Networks announced 110 new jobs aligned to the strategy.
The action plan follows last month's publication of The Path to Net Zero Energy which outlined a roadmap to deliver a 56% reduction in our energy-related emissions by 2030 and a pathway to deliver the 2050 vision of net zero carbon and affordable energy. The action plan includes a suite of new initiatives including a Pound 10million green innovation fund, a hydrogen centre of excellence and one-stop shop for energy advice.
The Minister was supported at the launch at W5's new Energise exhibition in Belfast by representatives of NIE Networks, the Housing Executive, the Consumer Council, National Energy Action and the Utility Regulator.
"I am delighted that The Path to Net Zero has been endorsed by some of the most important organisations working in the energy sector. A collaborative approach is vital to putting affordability front and centre of our new strategy and action plan. We will take an energy-efficiency-first approach which will help consumers reduce the energy they use and therefore minimise their energy bills.
"The action plan maps out the best route to ensuring people will live and work in more energy efficient buildings, whilst helping some of the most vulnerable in society to live in warmer homes, reduce ill-health and ultimately save lives. We understand people need information, advice and financial support to make some of these changes, particularly with affordability in mind, and we will ensure that the appropriate help is available."
NIE Networks announced that they would be creating at least 110 new jobs, with an additional Pound 50million investment in the electricity network with opportunities for engineers, designers, apprentices and operational posts. It is part of a significant investment which will focus on the roll-out of clean energy infrastructure.
The Minister welcomed the announcement, saying it bolsters the strategy's vision for a Green Economy, which aims to create new jobs and grow a skills base for the low carbon economy through innovation, support and focusing on our competitive strengths.
"I'm delighted and encouraged that NIE Networks is investing in our energy future. As we progress on the route laid out by The Path to Net Zero Energy, we can expect to see further investments in clean energy, which will create real economic opportunities on the ground for our businesses and people. We are aiming to double the size of our low carbon and renewable energy economy. This will create the jobs of the future and we will work to ensure everyone has the skills and training needed to benefit from this.
"I therefore welcome NIE Networks' commitment to delivering a broad spectrum of jobs, including senior positions and apprenticeships through its award-winning apprenticeship programme, and training centre as part of this announcement."
NIE Networks Managing Director Paul Stapleton said:
"Our investment announced today aligns with The Path to Net Zero. The electricity network sits at the heart of Northern Ireland's journey towards net zero carbon emissions and is a central component of economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The creation of these 110 jobs and our investment in the additional skills we develop at NIE Networks in the next few years will help Northern Ireland reach those aims and supercharge green growth in the years ahead."
The action plan was welcomed by a number of other organisations.
Housing Executive Chief Executive Grainia Long said:
"I welcome the publication of the action plan for The Path to Net Zero Energy strategy, which is a very welcome step in Northern Ireland's transition to net zero emissions. We're determined that housing will play a critical part in this and we estimate that better energy efficiency in local homes could reduce emissions by 2.2 million tonnes per year. It is also fundamental in tackling fuel poverty. As part of our own plans, we recently launched a research and development competition to quickly develop 'Smart' systems that help to reduce the carbon emissions from heating homes by using more local clean renewable energy and enable our tenants to keep their homes warm and dry, while saving on tenants' energy costs."
Noyona Chundur, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland, said:
"We are unambiguous in our view that achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions is essential for long-term consumer protection. It must come about through the development of a sustainable energy future that works for us all. It is essential that we achieve a just and fair transition by ensuring affordability, security of supply and consumer protection.
"We must avoid demands on consumers that are overly burdensome and unaffordable if our net zero goal is to be reached. Instead we must engage, empower, and mobilise communities and consumers to create a grassroots movement that can deliver net zero. We support the new energy strategy and are committed to working in partnership to deliver it, and the consumer education, support and empowerment needed to help our citizens through their changing energy future."
John French, Chief Executive of the Utility Regulator, said:
"This strategy provides a real opportunity for Northern Ireland to contribute to the decarbonisation agenda goals whilst ensuring energy bills are affordable for everyone."
The action plan comes at a time of significant energy price rises.
Pat Austin of the energy charity National Energy Action said:
"Many people living in fuel poverty are struggling this winter, particularly with soaring household energy bills. There are so many negative impacts resulting from living in a cold home - needless death, physical and mental ill-health, damaged life chances and further strain on our precious health services. These consequences affect us all.
"We support this new Energy Strategy and we hope that it will be the catalyst for change, ending fuel poverty and shaping a more equitable energy future in Northern Ireland."