Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein demand immediate closure of RHI Scheme

The RHI scheme was deeply flawed.
The RHI scheme was deeply flawed.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has called for the immediate closure of the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The party's economy spokesperson was speaking after the publication of the future of the non-domestic Renewable Heating Incentive consultation report.

The RHI scheme landed Stormont with an overspend bill once projected at almost £500 million.

RHI was supposed to incentivise farmers and other business owners to switch to wood pellet burning boilers by offering them a subsidy to purchase the fuel.

Catastrophic errors at government level meant subsidy levels were set higher than it actually cost to buy the pellets, so applicants were effectively able to make a profit on public money by burning boilers without limits.

An inquiry into the scandal, chaired by Sir Patrick Coghlin is set to be published later this year.

On Thursday the Department for the Economy (DfE) published its report into the future of the sceme.

The DfE recieved 258 responses to the consultation and said it will now identify a long-term payment structure for the non-domestic RHI scheme.

The report outlined eight possible options for the future of the sceme.

Among the options being considered are the closure of the scheme, or further cuts to payments.

Conor Murphy
Conor Murphy

One option could see boiler owners being asked to pay money back in an attempt to recoup past overpayments.

If the scheme is closed early applicants may have to be compensated.

Once the outcome is decided, the department will write to Secretary of State Karen Bradley to ask her to sponsor legislation to enact the decision.

A previous cut to payments is currently being challenged by a group of boiler owners through the Court of Appeal.

In order to improve value for money and affordability of the RHI scheme, a tiered tariff structure was introduced to new entrants to the scheme in November 2015.

This tiered structure was then extended to all small and medium sized biomass boilers on 1 April 2017.

If this action had not been taken, the Northern Ireland Executive would have faced financial pressures of £700 million over the lifetime of the scheme as a result of flaws in the original design of the tariff.

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy said the scheme must be closed immediately.

“The RHI scheme is comprehensively and irretrievably flawed and should be closed down as soon as possible," he said.

“As outlined in our response to the consultation spending more public money on a scheme that is at best ineffective and at worse counterproductive to carbon reduction is unjustifiable.

“Tariffs were more lucrative for smaller, less energy-efficient boilers and the wood pellets subsidised by RHI emit more carbon when burnt than fossil fuels.

“These flaws will remain if RHI is continued. It should be closed down as soon as possible and we should invest in building our renewable energy capacity to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change.”

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