RHI boiler owners vow more legal action over plans to reduce payouts
A group representing business owners in Northern Ireland has vowed to take further legal action over "oppressive" new proposals for the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive.
After a public consultation, the Department for the Economy (DfE) published a plan yesterday to continue the 20-year green energy scheme that led to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.
A lack of cost controls had led to spending on the green energy scheme spiralling out of control, with some users burning biomass just to take advantage of the over-generous subsidies on offer.
The new plan to reduce costs would keep payments going for businesses with small and medium-sized boilers, with a new rate of return on investment of 12%.
For those with the most common boiler, their subsidy would fall from around £13,000 to slightly more than £2,000.
A voluntary option has also been included to buy out those boiler owners disadvantaged by the new tariffs, such as those with high capital costs or low usage.
With no Stormont Executive in place, it is now up to Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to pass new legislation in Westminster by the end of March, or payments will cease for most boiler owners.
DfE said the new cost for the full 20 years will be around £190m (with £120m already spent) after initial fears it would overspend by many more hundreds of millions.
Andrew Trimble, chair of the Renewable Heat Association NI (RHANI), said participating businesses now faced ruin.
He called the proposals "unreasonable, arbitrary, oppressive, disproportionate and unnecessary".
The group has already launched a legal challenge over tariffs set in 2017 and plans to challenge the latest proposal.
"That's assuming the Government doesn't fall over Brexit by the end of March and the Northern Ireland Secretary can convince politicians this DfE plan is the only plan," he said.
He said many businesses, such as poultry and mushroom farmers, could face ruin.
"This is not a dog's breakfast of our making," he said.
Another poultry farmer, who preferred not to be named, said he was "devastated" by the plans and would be switching back to fossil fuels this year.
"My outgoings on heat this year would be about £28,000. I had originally expected to get about £27,000 a year.
"The 2017 rate saw that drop to £10,000 and this new rate will be around £3,000. That's completely unsustainable."
Richard Rodgers, Head of Energy at DfE, said the new tariffs were calculated after a financial review last year.
A total of 258 people responded to a consultation, with most favouring the highest level of payment.
The Department said there was "little supporting evidence" this could be justified.
They said this also contrasted with evidence from the Northern Ireland Audit Office and European Commission officials made it clear the higher tariffs would not comply with State Aid regulations.
A public inquiry into the RHI is expected to report later this year.