Belfast Telegraph

Concerns existed over RHI loopholes, inquiry hears

By Cate McCurry

Officials overseeing the implementation of a botched green energy subsidy were warned by scheme administrators that the draft regulations were open to abuse, an inquiry has heard.

Fiona Hepper, who was in charge of the unit that introduced the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), was told by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) to "hold off" on bringing forward the scheme.

Ofgem suggested that there should be a delay in launching the scheme so the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) could include regulations that were adopted in the Great Britain initiative, which included the vital cost controls.

Ms Hepper, making her third appearance, told the inquiry that the change would have delayed the opening of the scheme by several months.

She stated there was a commitment with the former DETI minister Arlene Foster to launch the scheme in October 2012.

Yesterday's hearing, the first since Christmas, looked at how the regulations around the scheme were created and implemented by the DETI green team.

It emerged that Ms Hepper made Mrs Foster aware of Ofgem's advice but that the then minister was "content" to launch the scheme as long as the consultation on cost controls was brought forward.

However, cost controls were not introduced following the consultation.

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin also stated that the decision not to act on Ofgem's advice was not recorded.

Ms Hepper told the inquiry that there was a need to regularly review the scheme because of the risk of "gaming".

Gaming is where a non-domestic RHI applicant installs multiple small boilers instead of one large, more efficient boiler to maximise and collect a higher tariff on offer.

Addressing concerns that were raised at the time, Ms Hepper said: "There was a general concern about was there a possibility of people finding loopholes and exploiting that."

It also emerged that Mrs Foster will be called to give evidence earlier than was scheduled.

Sir Patrick told the inquiry that this was to address a number of issues around the design of the scheme.

Belfast Telegraph

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