Belfast Telegraph

Don't kill off renewables industry

By Steven Agnew

Last week the Assembly was asked to vote to make people redundant by effectively shutting down a fledgling industry. I am referring to the Enterprise Minister's early closure of the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme.

It is clear that the DUP does not support the renewable energy industry in Northern Ireland. Despite the current minister giving a commitment to businesses that the RHI tariffs would be in place until March 31, the scheme will close to new applications on February 29.

This will leave many businesses with expensive stock purchased with the reasonable expectation that the minister would honour his commitments.

It is almost as if we are coming down with jobs in Northern Ireland and can afford to play fast and loose with the one industry that has grown throughout the recession.

The scheme was announced by Arlene Foster in 2012. We were told then that it was a £25m investment from Westminster.

In essence, all the Enterprise Minister had to do was administer a scheme that had been established and was being funded by the Westminster Government.

Despite that we still have, in a £25m scheme, a £30m overspend. What a shambles.

While the scheme will continue in the rest of the UK, ours is to close due to the financial mismanagement of successive ministers.

A £30m overspend is unacceptable; but we must not punish the industry for the incompetence of ministers.

It is worth noting that, since 2011, the gas industry in Northern Ireland has been heavily subsidised to take gas to the west, for the boiler replacement scheme and for a new power station at Ballylumford that led to a rise in all our bills.

The idea that only renewables rely on subsidies is a myth. In fact, renewables is the only energy industry that has a timeline by which it will be subsidy-free.

We should not waste the potential that the renewables industry offers by cutting it off in its infancy. This scheme must be reviewed and replaced.

The energy is sustainable; the finances must be also.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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