Belfast Telegraph

Plan to stop RHI applications rising led to more, inquiry told

By Staff Reporter

An attempt to prevent a spike in applications to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) had the opposite effect, a public inquiry into the botched green energy scheme has heard.

The then Department for Enterprise was informally sharing plans for tariff cuts with the biomass industry in the summer of 2015, members of the panel were told yesterday as the then head of its energy division, John Mills gave evidence.

The approach was taken because officials feared a formal consultation could lead to an applications spike.

However, the industry was sharing information about proposed cuts - leading to an increase in demand for boilers eligible for the more generous subsidy.

Mr Mills said he had not had any discussion with his colleagues in the RHI branch about what they should say to biomass installers as they sought their views on the future of the scheme.

He explained that there had been some "naivety" about the extent of information shared by officials Stuart Wightman and Seamus Hughes - both of whom informed major biomass installers and poultry giant Moy Park about upcoming changes in tariffs - which the inquiry previously heard.

Almost 1,000 boilers were accredited to the scheme in the three months before the cuts took effect.

The RHI, set up in 2012, encouraged businesses to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources to generate heat.

It descended into a public scandal in 2016, however, when it emerged that claimants had the opportunity to earn more money by burning more fuel than they needed to, due to the subsidies on offer.

Mr Mills said policy development always involved some contact with industry, adding that he believed they were walking a fine line between preventing legal challenges to the proposals, and telling them too much.

Asked whether he too had been guilty of naivety Mr Mills said he had not been the one fielding the phone calls. He added that by mid 2015 the scheme should have been promoted less as it was already known that the forecast spend for that financial year was twice the available budget.

Belfast Telegraph

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