Public engagement critical to energy transition success, says grid operator

Wednesday 12 June 2024

SONI publishes new public and landowner engagement commitments

Northern Ireland’s grid operator, SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland), has said that public engagement is critical to a successful energy transition.

To reaffirm and strengthen its commitment to local communities, landowners and its wider partners, the Transmission System Operator has published a series of new engagement strategies following an extensive period of research and consultation.

As the Transmission System Operator, SONI has the responsibility for planning the upgrades to the high voltage electricity grid infrastructure, and its operational capability, to facilitate the use of more renewable energy. The electricity grid is vital infrastructure for the delivery of Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets.

The Northern Ireland Energy Strategy and the Climate Change (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 set a legal target for 80% of electricity consumed to come from renewable sources by 2030.

With less than six years until 2030, SONI is seeking to further strengthen its engagement and collaboration to support the delivery of Northern Ireland’s collective renewable energy and climate action ambitions.

Among the series of strategies includes a new, enhanced Public Engagement Model and Landowner Charter and the grid operator’s first published Stakeholder Engagement Strategy and annual Action Plan.

SONI Chief ExecutiveAlan Campbell, said:

“In addition to ensuring everyone in Northern Ireland has a secure, reliable supply of electricity in the present, SONI has the responsibility for enabling a cleaner, more secure energy future for homes, farms, and businesses across Northern Ireland. This means we have to transform the electricity grid and how we use it to facilitate more renewable electricity to support Northern Ireland’s clean energy and decarbonisation ambitions.

“As Northern Ireland's Transmission System Operator, we understand that local communities, landowners, businesses and industry partners must be at the heart of this unprecedented change in our electricity system. That’s why SONI is determined to leave no stone unturned to ensure we are engaging and working collaboratively in delivering our role to support this once-in-a-generation energy transition.”

SONI Senior Communications and Engagement Lead, Heather Henry-Wilson, said:

“SONI’s grid development process is consultative, collaborative, and deliberative and we already go far beyond what is required by planning policy. We engage with local communities, elected representatives, landowners and industry partners on a daily basis across all our projects. Our goal is to find the best possible solution by understanding the views and concerns of our stakeholders and affording them the opportunity to shape our plans.

"To support the timely delivery of Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure local communities, landowners and industry partners are at the heart of everything we do. That’s why now is the time to publish a new, enhanced Public Engagement Model to reaffirm our commitment to working together towards a cleaner, more secure energy future."

SONI’s Senior Landowner Engagement Lead, William Sufferin, said:

“Rural communities and landowners play a crucial role in meeting Northern Ireland’s energy needs, particularly when it comes to hosting this vital infrastructure for the benefit of everyone. It is important this role is recognised and respected, because without their support there can be no energy transition. At a time when many rural communities are facing significant challenges, it is vital that we listen to their views and ensure they feel meaningfully involved in planning the electricity grid for the future.”

The new strategies were developed following an extensive period of research and consultation with SONI’s key stakeholders, including: a poll with a representative sample of the general public; a comprehensive independent Stakeholder Needs Assessment; an open Call for Views; and a series of workshop events.

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