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Axing of green heat scheme is delayed following outcry

By Yvette Shapiro

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has extended the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme until the end of February after intense pressure from MLAs, companies and farmers.

In a shock announcement last Friday, Mr Bell said that the financial support programme for green energy was to be axed almost immediately because of budgetary pressures.

The scheme is over budget by at least £30m after a surge of applications. The UUP's Adrian Cochrane-Watson has accused the minister and his officials of "incompetence on a huge scale".

The Department of Enterprise is reviewing how the scheme has been run and probing "whistleblower allegations", although there is no evidence of wrongdoing at this stage.

Companies involved in manufacturing and installing the systems say they stand to lose millions of pounds and that up to 2,000 jobs could be at risk. A delegation of firms in the renewable energy sector has asked for a meeting with Mr Bell.

The Ulster Farmers' Union estimates that up to 50 poultry farmers could be left out of pocket, as there is insufficient time to complete new heating systems before the scheme closes.

Yesterday, Mr Bell (right) said: "I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed in relation to both the non domestic and domestic RHI schemes and I fully appreciate that closure presents considerable difficulties for those who have invested in new technology and are in the midst of preparing for application. Having taken those concerns on board, rather than close the schemes to new applications on the earliest possible date, I am proposing that, pending Assembly approval, both schemes remain open for a further two weeks until February 29."

Patsy McGlone MLA, the SDLP chair of the Enterprise Committee, said the minister had created a crisis. "This is a situation of the Minister's making and he has put companies under enormous pressure."

Ryan Turkington, managing director of the engineering company Turco, based at Sandholes near Cookstown, said that renewables work made up 30% of his business. "We employ 20 people and we'll probably have to lose seven or eight staff, We're a small business and that is very tough. We have cancelled jobs because customers won't go ahead without the incentive. We've been making oil boilers for 30 years, so once again we'll find ourselves flying the flag for fossil fuels. The RHI scheme encouraged the renewables sector and now it's gone."

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