Renewables scheme axe 'devastating for industry'
A decision to shut down the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme after it ran out of money is a "devastating blow" to Northern Ireland's energy sector, it's been claimed.
Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell announced late on Friday that the scheme, which funds biomass projects to produce renewable energy, would close.
The industry estimates that around 2,000 jobs are at risk in the renewables sector as a result.
Michael Doran, Action Renewables managing director, said the decision would turn the renewables industry here "from boom to bust".
Mr Doran said: "The RHI had been a tremendous boost to the industry over the last 24 months.
"It upped turnover by around 600% and that will stop dead; it will go back to a level of installation well below the 2014 level.
"The closure of the RHI in Northern Ireland at such short notice is a devastating blow which is causing much distress in the industry. This applies particularly to installers who have already placed orders from manufacturers on the strength of their customers receiving the RHI.
"The cuts will inevitably lead to redundancies, substantial financial loss in the local economy and a halt in the uptake of renewable heat."
In September the minister announced he was withdrawing the Northern Ireland renewable obligation certificate (ROCs) to fund wind energy projects.
Mr Doran said that the end of ROCs, and of the RHI, meant "it is unclear what the future policy is for renewable energy in Northern Ireland".
In a statement, the minister said the Executive was having to look for money in its budget for the next five years to fund existing installations.
"To prevent further overspend I must bring forward legislation to the Assembly to close both schemes to new applications," he said.
A DETI spokesman said: "Both RHI schemes have been very successful, particularly with the non-domestic scheme over the past 12 months and more so in the run-up to the scheme changes introduced in November 2015.
"Unfortunately the available budget for new applications has now been exhausted and both schemes must be closed as soon as possible, subject to clearance of legislation by the Assembly."
He said the Executive's renewable heat target of 4% by the end of 2015 had been exceeded, with around 6% of heat now coming from renewable technologies, and added: "Support for existing accredited RHI installations will continue for up to 20 years."
A lack of clarification over the announcement last Friday was causing frustration among those who say their businesses will be affected.
The Northern Ireland domestic renewable heat incentive was launched to encourage home-owners and business owners to switch to renewable heating systems and reduce carbon emissions.