Owners of some renewable generators in Northern Ireland are being paid “excessive” subsidies out of households’ electricity bills, the NI Audit Office has said.
Winds farms contribute most of Northern Ireland’s renewable power and receive a similar level of subsidies as those in Britain.
But owners of standalone turbines and anaerobic digesters, which together contribute 17% of Northern Ireland’s renewable power, receive a far higher level of subsidies under the Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation (NIRO) scheme.
The Audit Office says the two technologies attract a significant proportion of the total available subsidy, despite generating only a small amount of power.
These disproportionate subsidies contribute to the £31 a year consumers in Northern Ireland pay through their electricity bills to subsidise renewable power. That’s around 5% of households’ total electricity expenditure.
The report cites the example of a standalone wind turbine that can attract at least £95,000 a year in subsidies. A similar turbine that is part of a larger wind farm would earn just £21,000 a year in subsidies.
There are 1,200 of standalone turbines in Northern Ireland. They cost around £300,000 to install, meaning owners would break even in just four years and then continue receiving payments for a further 16 years. The NIRO has closed to new applicants but those already accredited will continue to receive payments.
Anaerobic digesters, in which organic matter produces a gas which is used to generate electricity, are also given generous subsidies.
The high level of subsidies means Northern Ireland has three times the number of single turbines and digesters per square kilometre than Great Britain.
The Department for the Economy said renewable electricity was a “major success story,” contributing 47% of Northern Ireland’s power. It said the two technologies highlighted in the report from the Audit Office account for just a “small proportion” of generation supported by the NIRO scheme.
The Audit Office acknowledges the success of renewable generation but said the same result could have been delivered "more efficiently, at less cost and with less impact on the local natural environment.”
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