Department tight-lipped on when checks of RHI boilers will take place
The Department for the Economy (DfE) has failed to disclose an exact date by which all 2,128 boilers on the non-domestic Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme must undergo their first inspection.
The DfE said they "will be inspected at some time" during the scheme's 20 year lifespan.
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And the Department also revealed that each boiler on the botched green energy initiative may be subjected to "more than one inspection" during a "continuous process of inspections" over two decades.
Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that just under 10% of the boilers on the scheme have been examined since a DfE inspection programme began nearly 14 months ago.
To date, only 190 accredited boiler installations have been inspected, and the DfE has refused to divulge the cost of the programme, branding it "commercially sensitive information".
In May 2017 the DfE sought contractors to inspect every boiler on the non-domestic RHI scheme, but the procurement exercise did not proceed as none of the bids fulfilled all of the tender requirements.
The plan to inspect all sites was shelved at that stage.
In August 2017, the DfE appointed Ricardo Energy and Environment to undertake Phase 1 of an inspection programme, which has been completed.
Contractors Greenview Gas, Totalis Solutions and Element Consultants are working on the next phase of inspections under a framework agreement.
The DfE says that 10-15 boilers are currently being inspected each week. At that rate, it could take three and a half years, until April 2022, to inspect the remaining boilers.
Yesterday, the Department fell short of revealing a deadline by which all of the non-domestic boilers on the RHI scheme would have to undergo their first inspection. Instead, it said that it was "committed to reviewing all installations on a continuous basis over the lifetime of the scheme".
Describing the inspection process, the spokesperson said that most would be "announced visits" but added that "a small number" would be unannounced.
She stated: "If a site has been selected for an announced inspection, a notification letter will be issued from the Department about the date of the forthcoming inspection.
"The inspection process is detailed and comprehensive, to ensure that it is able to identify any areas of non-compliance that may arise on a site by site basis. The process also needs to be proportionate and reasonable to the installation owners."
SDLP MLA John Dallat, the former deputy chairperson of Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, slammed the current inspection process for proceeding at a "snail's pace" and called for it to be reassessed in order to assist the RHI Inquiry's assessment of the situation.
He stated: "It is shocking to learn that less than 200 boilers have been inspected.
"We are dealing with a scandal potentially involving more than £500m and what we have discovered so far is a laissez-faire approach to the actual inspection process."
Mr Dallat also said he did not have confidence that the full scale of any abuses of the scheme would be uncovered by the inspection programme.
"Given the performance to date I am not satisfied that this process will unveil the full extent of the abuses of this scheme and that is not acceptable," he said.