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Peer's 1000-acre Northern Ireland estate uses RHI wood pellet scheme

By Sean O'Driscoll

A member of the House of Lords has emerged as one of those who signed up to the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

Viscount Brookeborough, a hereditary peer and grandson of Basil Brooke, the late Northern Ireland prime minister, has a large wood pellet boiler installed at his Fermanagh estate, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the financial benefits of the RHI scheme.

His estate, Colebrooke Park, is one of Northern Ireland's most luxurious stately homes and includes a 1,000-acre working farm.

The estate has a spa and a business conference centre, which are also heated by the wood pellet boiler.

As Lord Lieutenant of Fermanagh, Viscount Brookeborough is the queen's representative in the county. He is also a former member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

A source close to Viscount Brookeborough confirmed that he had signed up for the RHI.

He said that heating usage had not increased since the estate switched from oil to wood pellets, and that overheating a listed house would cause havoc with the antique furniture.

"It would also affect the doors and could really do some damage to the house, so it's not overuse," the source commented.

In November 2013, Viscount Brookeborough held a biomass workshop at his estate during which he praised the financial benefits of the RHI and invited guests to see his 99kw boiler. The estate boiler also featured on Channel 4 series, Country House Rescue.

Lord Brookeborough outlined that the RHI was the "key to progress" in the estate's attempt to reduce heating costs, according to Nigel Moore, a senior renewable energy technologist at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) who wrote about the event online.

"While considerable savings in greenhouse gas emissions have resulted from the switch from fossil fuel to biomass, Lord Brookeborough indicated that his main driver was the financial saving," Mr Moore wrote in his report.

The agricultural college has itself confirmed that it is a beneficiary of the RHI.

The event on the Brookeborough estate was co-sponsored by Original Heating Ltd, a wood pellet boiler installation company that is run and co-owned by John Gilliland, the former head of the Ulster Farmers' Union. The firm installed the boiler for Viscount Brookeborough and the agricultural college.

Arlene Foster, the then Minister for Enterprise and Trade, visited Original Heating in 2014 to launch the domestic section of the RHI scheme.

Mr Gilliland, an early adopter of biomass and renewable energy, has confirmed that he stands to earn £1.6 million from the RHI for the three boilers he runs on his own farm.

Mr Gilliland said he had spent more money than that on researching biomass and environmentally-friendly energy sources, and is widely recognised as a pioneer of biomass energy in Ireland.

Original Heating is also an RHI beneficiary. It has one boiler it uses for drying wood pellets, a service it sells to other owners of wood pellet boilers.

Yesterday, Eddie Meenan, Mr Gilliland's business partner at Original Heating, said sales were "dead" since the Northern Ireland RHI was cancelled in February 2016.

"Our money is now in maintenance of existing boilers and sales in the rest of the UK, where the RHI is still running," he said.

Mrs Foster, the DUP leader, is no longer First Minister of Northern Ireland after Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness collapsed the Northern Ireland executive earlier this week as a result of the RHI controversy.

She has denied any wrongdoing in the operation of the RHI scheme, which was originally under her department's control.

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