Belfast Telegraph

DUP adviser Andrew Crawford tells inquiry he didn't realise RHI scheme produced 'burn-to-earn' incentive

By Mark Edwards

A former special adviser to DUP leader Arlene Foster has said at no stage did he realise the RHI scheme allowed people to profit from the botched green energy scheme.

Dr Andrew Crawford, during his fourth day of giving evidence to the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry, said he had assumed checks were in place to prevent a “burn-to-earn incentive”.

The special adviser to then Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) Minister Arlene Foster told the inquiry he assumed people availing of the scheme would get a rate of return to allow them to pay for the cost of installing and servicing biomass equipment but that at no stage was he aware people could make a significant profit from RHI.

When pressed by inquiry panelist Dame Una O’Brien on why he did not ask more questions about the subsidies on offer through the scheme, Dr Crawford said it was not his role to ask questions about the details of the subsidies.

He added: “I didn’t envisage that the scheme would be structured in such a way that it would pay people to...earn as you burn. I just assumed- wrongly now- that there’d be checks in the system that would stop that from happening.”

However, he admitted to the inquiry that he did not understand “exactly what that meant” or how regulations would prevent costs spiralling.

The former special adviser said Mrs Foster would have been “much more cautious” about the scheme if she had been told about the way RHI was funded.

The RHI Inquiry was set up to investigate the scheme after its costs spiralled (stock photo)

The inquiry heard that officials at DETI had been told by the UK Treasury that Stormont would have to foot the bill for any overspend on the initiative.

However, that information was not in a submission to the minister about the scheme in 2012 from senior DETI official Trevor Cooper.

Dr Crawford said that at no stage was Mrs Foster told about the need to be cautious regarding how much the scheme was spending and that there would be a penalty imposed of about 5% if the DETI went over budget on the scheme.

The inquiry heard that just two officials in DETI were working directly on the RHI scheme, compared to 77 in a similar scheme running in Great Britain.

The inquiry’s junior counsel Joseph Aiken asked if when RHI went live in November 2012 whether DETI officials told Mrs Foster or her special advisor that the department did not have the resources to handle the RHI scheme.

Dr Crawford replied: “Nobody was saying that about this particular scheme.”

The inquiry heard that Renewable Energy Manufacturing Ltd (REM) wrote to the Department of the Environment (DoE) in January 2013 to say the scheme in Northern Ireland was giving a “perverse incentive” for farmers to install multiple boilers rather than one in order to get a higher tariff that was on offer for smaller systems.

The letter was forwarded on to DETI a number of months later, but the department rejected this was the case.

Sir Patrick Coghlin, chairman of the inquiry, said: “Nobody picked up the implication of a number of boilers being used at the same time.”

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