Belfast Telegraph

End witch hunt, urges ex-farmers’ union chief who signed up for RHI

By Chris McCullough

A farmer who used the Renewable Heat Incentive to install three woodchip burners to dry sawdust has called for an end to the "witch hunt" of those legitimately receiving grants.

Ian Marshall farms near Markethill in Co Armagh and was president of the Ulster Farmers Union in 2015 when he enrolled in the RHI scheme. "It's time this witch hunt ends," he said. "There are genuine businesses, like ours, that have legitimately signed up for this scheme and are being made to feel as if we have done something wrong.

"It took me a long time and a lot of research to persuade myself that this scheme was going to benefit our business.

"I have invested thousands in it and was audited by the Department for Economy and Ofgem just a few weeks ago.

"My system passed all the inspections without any queries. I have no problem if they want to come and audit me again. Everything is above board here."

Mr Marshall insists he and his family took the decision to install the burners on their own without any discussion with the Ulster Farmers Union or the Department of Agriculture.

"I didn't want to involve either the department or the union because this was personal to me, my family and my business.

"Before applying I read thoroughly the application procedure, and then read it again and again. I wanted to be sure this was for me.

"The application itself was very detailed and complex. I gave it a complete forensic analysis before putting pen to paper to apply."

Mr Marshall installed three woodchip burners in a shed which he uses to dry sawdust, woodchip and grain. After quitting dairy farming last year, he now raises heifers and has around 500 cattle cubicles to bed on a daily basis.

He was buying kiln-dried sawdust to bed the cattle but this was being dried with gas or diesel systems. In order to be more environmentally friendly, he decided to dry 'significant amounts' of sawdust with woodchip burners.

"We are high users of sawdust and we were buying material that had been kiln-dried by gas or diesel systems," he explained. "I thought if we put in these burners we could dry the sawdust and other materials more environmentally friendly.

"Drying in our shed now is woodchips and sawdust, but we also dry grain in the main harvest season," he added.

Mr Marshall has also called on the Executive to stop the name-calling and to sort out the problems with RHI. He said: "We need the Executive to stop the petty squabbling, take control of this situation and sort it out.

"Fundamentally, this is a good scheme but it has been poorly managed. The genuine businesses that have joined the scheme are being made to feel like criminals.

"I have not personally heard of any people who are misusing the scheme, but if there are any it's time they were weeded out.

"There has been mention of a spike of applications nearing the closure of the scheme. This is because a number of people were waiting for their hardware to arrive and had initially indicated they wanted to participate.

"There were delays in installations and so when it was announced the scheme was closing, these applications were all put in at the one time.

"If they had let it run normally, the spike would not have occurred," he continued.

Mr Marshall said it was easy to understand why the massive projected £400m cost of the scheme to the public purse is making headlines, but he contended that the numbers make more sense when broken down.

"It's very easy for people to say the scheme claimants are receiving £1.60 for every £1 they put into it. However, there is a lot of initial capital investment required to make ready the sheds for the burners and of course to buy the actual burners.

"This scheme had such great potential to encourage the use of renewable energy and it needs sorted out once and for all," Mr Marshall added.

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