Only 10% of of RHI boilers were inspected in wake of scandal
Just under 10% of 2,000 boilers have been examined as part of an inspection programme that began nearly 14 months ago in the wake of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) controversy, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
In May 2017 the Department for the Economy (DfE) sought contractors to inspect every boiler on the non-domestic RHI scheme.
There are just over 2,000 boilers involved.
However, the procurement exercise did not proceed as none of the bids fulfilled all of the tender requirements, and the plan to inspect all sites was shelved.
Three months later the DfE appointed Ricardo Energy and Environment to undertake Phase 1 of an inspection programme, which has since been completed.
Three other contractors - Greenview Gas, Totalis Solutions and Element Consultants - are working on the next phase of the inspection programme under a framework agreement.
Now, nearly 14 months on from the beginning of the Phase 1 inspections, only 190 accredited boiler installations have been inspected, and the DfE has refused to divulge the cost of the inspection programme, branding it "commercially sensitive information".
The DfE revealed that 10-15 boilers are now being inspected each week.
The RHI Inquiry is currently investigating the botched green energy scheme, and has called a number of high-profile witnesses, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, who was the minister responsible when RHI was established.
Costs spiralled out of control because of critical flaws in how tariffs were set.
Applicants could earn more money by burning more fuel, because the subsidies on offer for renewable fuels were greater than the cost of the fuels themselves.
When asked by this newspaper why it had taken so long to inspect 190 boilers, and whether contractors' pay was linked to the number of boilers inspected, the DfE responded: "The procurement for the framework agreement was completed in June 18 to take forward Phase 2 of the inspection programme, incorporating the learning from Phase 1.
"The inspection process is both detailed and comprehensive, to ensure that it is both fair to the scheme participant and is able to address the compliance issues that arise on a site by site basis. The contractor is paid on the completion of each inspection report."
TUV leader Jim Allister said that the inspection programme had originally been presented as a means of "getting to grips" with the RHI scheme.
"This news will only add to the public dismay at the continuing mishandling of the RHI situation," he said. "It is taxpayers' money which will be used on this inspection programme, so it's ridiculous not to say how much the contractors they are using are paid for it - the public is entitled to know.
"This is public money for a public contract."
SDLP MLA John Dallat, who is the former deputy chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said he was "quite horrified that so few boilers have been inspected".
"When this scandal broke, adequate resources should have been put in place to quickly check out every single burner that was installed. Clearly that hasn't happened, which is extremely disappointing, and it won't reassure the public," Mr Dallat said.
"Given the revelations of the RHI Inquiry, I think the public will be absolutely disgusted.
"The public may enjoy the drama, but they are far more interested in the outcome and who will escape under a cloud of dust and who will be made accountable.
"They need to move forward as quickly as possible and get all the remaining boilers checked out."
Mr Dallat called on the RHI Inquiry to investigate why there have been so few inspections to date.
"It's very upsetting that we don't have an Assembly where these issues could be thrashed out day and daily," he added.
"I just hope that the Inquiry team has the brief and the authority to dig into this."
The DfE said: "The current framework agreement was procured through the European Journal to enable us to ensure best value for money was achieved.
"We are unable to provide the cost of the inspection programme, as it is commercially sensitive information.
"To date, 190 accredited boiler installations have been inspected and inspections are currently being undertaken at a rate of 10-15 boilers per week."