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Stormont launches public consultation on future of controversial RHI scheme

Plan unveiled to shut scheme and compensate boiler owners.


Pellets burning inside a biomass boiler on the farm of a poultry farmer

Pellets burning inside a biomass boiler on the farm of a poultry farmer


Pellets burning inside a biomass boiler on the farm of a poultry farmer

The Executive has launched a consultation on options for the future of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, including its potential closure.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds has said the preferred option would be closing the non-domestic scheme and paying compensation to legitimate current participants.

The total cost of this option is estimated to be £68.4m with an average boiler eligible for a payout of up to £35,500.

The proposal has gone out to public consultation which runs until April 9.

There are about 1,200 participants in the RHI scheme, many of them poultry farmers.

The botched green energy incentivised businesses and farmers to switch to eco-friendly boilers by paying them a subsidy for the wood pellet fuel required to run them.

But mistakes in its designs saw the subsidy rates set higher than the actual cost of the wood pellets – with applicants finding themselves able to burn to earn.

RHI led to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017 when Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned after First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to step aside for a proper investigation.

The later probe identified numerous failings across government but rejected claims that corruption had played a part.

When it was published last year politicians such as Mrs Foster were cited, but civil servants and special advisers came in for particular criticism in Sir Patrick Coghlan’s 276,000-word RHI inquiry report.

The scheme was suspended to new applicants in February 2016 but it currently remains operational for accredited installations, with tariffs supporting generation of renewable heat for a period of 20 years and final payments expected in 2036.

A commitment to shut it down was part of the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored Stormont in January 2020.

Speaking as the consultation opened, Mrs Dodds said: “I have always been clear that any decision on the future of the RHI scheme must be fair to both the taxpayer and to the scheme’s legitimate participants who invested in good faith. The preferred option seeks to meet these objectives. In due course, new support for renewable heat would be brought forward.

“I would encourage everyone with an interest in the future of this scheme to have their say by taking part in the consultation process”.

Belfast Telegraph