Belfast Telegraph

RHI two-week extension lobbied for by Foster and Murphy 'to cost £70m'

By Sean O'Driscoll

Pressure from Arlene Foster and Conor Murphy to keep the Renewable Heat Incentive open for an extra two weeks will end up costing taxpayers £70m, an independent financial analysis has shown.

Former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell sought to have the out-of-control scheme shut by February 15, 2016.

But the DUP First Minister and the senior Sinn Fein MLA wanted it kept open until February 29 of that year.

Mr Murphy, then the vice chair of Stormont's enterprise, trade and investment committee, took credit for the deadline extension.

He stated in a Press release on February 11 last year that he had met with Mr Bell to urge him to keep RHI going for another fortnight.

However, last week Mr Murphy said in an interview that he had been trying to shut the scheme down at that time.

The deadline postponement led to a rush of 289 applicants, or 13% of the RHI total, and will cost the public purse millions.

Last Friday, in an interview on Stephen Nolan's Radio Ulster show, there was no mention of Mr Murphy's efforts to keep RHI open.

He explained to Nolan that the Economy Department's permanent secretary Andrew McCormick had told Stormont's Public Accounts Committee in February 2016 that the scheme was "out of control and needed to be shut down".

Mr Murphy said that he and his Sinn Fein colleagues "moved to close it down within weeks".

In reality, Mr Murphy was lobbying Mr Bell to keep it going. "I urged him to keep the scheme open to allow... applications to be completed and, thankfully, he has now done so," he said in his February 11 Press release.

The delay in closing RHI followed a stormy meeting between Mrs Foster and Mr Bell, in which he said that she was "highly agitated and angry", and demanded that he extend RHI for two weeks to February 29.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed the burn rate and the boiler size for nearly all of the 2,100 boilers in the non-domestic RHI scheme.

It shows that the average boiler size for new applicants doubled after November 19, 2015 - the final day of the most generous level of grant under RHI.

After that, the highest grant of 6.5p per kw was expanded from boilers up to 99kw in size to boilers up to 199kw for the first 1,314 hours per year.

That led to a huge rush of applicants ordering the 199kw boilers.

Overnight, 199kw boilers became the standard for new applicants.

According to an examination conducted by a company director with many years' experience of spreadsheet analysis, 203 boilers registered in the final two weeks will have received £2,015,085 in their first year of operation and £48,961,287 over the 20-year course of RHI. That figure is only for 203 of the final 287 boilers for which Ofgem has obtained a burn rate.

Using an average for the remaining 84, it brings the total to just over £70m.

The analyst, a director of a technology company, says that the figure may be conservative, as most data collected by Ofgem does not yet include winter burn rates, which are expected to be significantly higher.

Figures released by Ofgem show that Mr Murphy's Newry/ South Armagh home area had the second largest number of RHI applicants after Dungannon/South Tyrone.

Sinn Fein has not responded to requests for comment on its involvement in RHI.

Belfast Telegraph


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