Belfast Telegraph

RHI heating scheme based on British model, but DETI removed cost controls: lawyer

By Staff Reporter

A lawyer responsible for drafting the Renewable Heat Incentive regulations has told a probe into the botched green energy scheme he was surprised that temporary suspension powers were not included in the final draft of the scheme.

Energy law specialist Alan Bissett said the move was "contrary to everything he had been doing" in his work for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry (DETI).

Mr Bissett, formerly of international law firm Arthur Cox, gave evidence about his role to the RHI Inquiry sitting at Parliament Buildings yesterday.

Panel chair Sir Patrick Coghlin pressed Mr Bissett on why he had not used his expertise to push for cost controls given the "volatility and unpredictability" of the scheme.

Mr Bissett said that he had been told by DETI officials that it was "only a mater of time" before cost control measures were brought in.

He said he thought this was a "reasonable" explanation, but told the inquiry's senior counsel David Scoffield QC that he was surprised at the decision as all his work up until that time had been to replicate the scheme as it was in Britain.

Earlier in his evidence Mr Bissett said he was also surprised that the tiering used as a cost control measure in the scheme in Britain was not included in the local version.

He said he wasn't aware DETI had removed the tiering system used in Britain.

Had this been included, it would have made it unprofitable to run a wood pellet boiler past a certain point.

Mr Bissett said his firm was asked to produce regulations which mirrored those under which the scheme operated in Britain.

But when the RHI scheme went for consultation, the regulations which were attached were not those produced by Arthur Cox.

Mr Scoffield told the panel that Mr Bissett may not have been aware that DETI's decision to remove the tierng system may have been based on advice from an environmental consultancy firm.

Mr Bissett said he found it "very strange" that DETI was drafting its own regulations, adding that he didn't see why the work he was doing could not have been done by Stormont's own legal unit, the Departmental Solicitor's Office (DSO).

Earlier, a solicitor from the DSO, Emma Wheeler, told the inquiry that her department lacked the technical knowledge that Arthur Cox possessed.

Giving evidence that when she was asked to review a new set of RHI regulations in 2012, she didn't see the amendments implemented that year in the British scheme, which included a suspension mechanism.

The RHI scheme was designed to encourage green energy use by giving businesses a financial incentive to switch to the new boilers.

But the flawed scheme meant users could actually benefit from needlessly burning energy.

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