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How is the RHI scheme a crisis or a scandal?

Is there any evidence that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is either a scandal or is in crisis?

To date, the key allegation made is of a fictitious farmer set to earn over £1m heating a mythical empty shed.

But that farmer would make far more millions if they were to put some chickens, or livestock, in that shed and in doing so meet all the terms of RHI.

What we can say with some certainty of the biomass RHI scheme run in Northern Ireland is that it substantially reduces the net deficit in our balance of payments by replacing expensive imported fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) with biomass fuel grown here.

Opec has generally been credited with crashing the price of oil below $50 so as to cripple shale oil and gas production in the USA.

The low cost of these fossil fuels has made the NI RHI scheme appear temporarily at a disadvantage, but as the price has edged back over $50 a barrel again this scheme will change.

My guess is that, as inflation takes hold again and oil broaches the $100-a-barrel range, then over the 20-year term of the RHI scheme, it will look like a shrewd investment, with hindsight.

And, while the £160 in return for £100 spent makes a good soundbite, it must be remembered that in Britain applicants initially received RHPP (Renewable Heat Premium Payment) as a one-off payment towards the cost of installing biomass boilers, whereas, insofar as I can see, this payment was integrated within the NI RHI scheme.

And, of course, there is far more to RHI than these costs. The RHI scheme provides energy security to NI over 20 years by creating an indigenous energy supply so as to reduce our dependency on Middle East oil and gas.

Much of the wood pellets come from coppiced woodland that, if harvested after leaf-fall, requires little fertiliser and, at the same time, provides a habitat and food for wildlife.

This coppiced woodland favours wetland found in Fermanagh and around Lough Neagh to provide much-needed jobs west of the Bann and it is effectively carbon-neutral, in that carbon gases produced are absorbed by growing woodland.

RHI biomass heating improves air quality, as it actually produces little ash and almost no resin if coppiced woodland is used. And it helps us to meet Government carbon emission targets.

Given this information, I remain to be convinced that the RHI scheme is either a scandal or is in crisis.

BERNARD J MULHOLLAND

Belfast

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