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BY CLARE WEIR
Direct employment in the wind, wave and tidal energy sectors in Northern Ireland has now reached 750 people, it has been revealed.
A major conference today will also be told that last year saw the highest levels of wind energy ever recorded in Northern Ireland.
Throughout December, wind energy regularly contributed more than 40% of Northern Ireland’s electricity demand.
Total installed wind farm capacity last year was 531.4MW – enough to power 345,410 homes.
Up to 506MW of electricity was generated at 6.30pm on December 17, 2013, the first time that wind has contributed more than 500MW to energy needs in Northern Ireland, and representing 36% of electricity needs at that time.
The annual Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group conference being held in Belfast will also hear how onshore wind farms have the potential to contribute almost £1m annually to the local economy through rates, whilst the overall potential annual value of the renewable market to Northern Ireland is estimated to be almost £2bn per annum by 2020 across a range of sectors.
Gary Connolly, outgoing chairman of the Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group (NIRIG) – which represents the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and RenewableUK in Northern Ireland – said that last year was also a record-breaking one for renewable energy across the UK and Ireland.
“In Great Britain in December, a traditionally high demand month, wind power supplied 10% of the total electricity demand for homes, businesses and factories,” he said.
“In the Republic of Ireland, by 7am on December 15, 2013, a staggering 59.99% of electricity demand was being met by wind energy. Indeed throughout the month of December, wind provided, on average, almost 30% of demand in the Irish system.
“Direct employment in wind, wave and tidal sectors here has now reached 750 people, with a high percentage of these jobs being skilled, technical or managerial.
“Wind energy is providing a stable, secure, cost-effective supply of home-grown power which can lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.”