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Unethical activity was not the cause of Northern Ireland’s failed energy scheme. The findings into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme were published on Friday. *

It found the scheme was a “project too far” for the NI Executive and “should never have been adopted”.

The scheme, which opened in 2012, with the aim of encouraging people to install heating systems that used environmentally wood pellets rather than gas and oil.

The report into the disastrous handling of the green energy scheme in Northern Ireland, concluded corruption was not the cause of its ultimate collapse in 2016.

Instead incompetence and inability among government officials and politicians has been blamed for the failure, which ultimately led to the collapse of the power-sharing government at Stormont.

When the RHI started there was no cap placed on the amount that could be claimed, unlike a similar scheme in England. This then resulted in the costs of the payments quickly spiralling meaning the incentive was shut down in 2016, leaving many farmers out of pocket.

The scheme was introduced by Arlene Foster, who is currently first Minister. The report exposes that she signed off the documents about the RHI scheme without first reading them.

Foster said she was “determined to learn from my mistakes and to work to ensure that the mistakes and systematic failures of the past are not repeated”.

What was the RHI scandal?

The RHI scheme paid 1,200 businesses to switch from oil and gas to what was meant to be environmentally friendly alternative, using wood pellet boilers. Some businesses put in multiple boilers. But the subsidy payment was higher than the cost of the fuel, creating an incentive to use the boilers to generate income.

It became known as “cash for ash” and a lack of cost controls meant it threatened a massive overspend on the Stormont budget.

The financial scandal led to the collapse of Northern Ireland’s political institutions in 2017 and caused a three-year political stalemate. The political institutions were only reinstated in January 2020.

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) said, members who took part in the RHI scheme have waited a long time to see where the failings of the scheme lay. With many farmers who complied with the rules are now facing financial problems through no fault of their own.

In an attempt to stabilise the scheme RHI tariff cuts were introduced by the Department of Economy (DfE) in April 2019 as a solution to their own problem. Farming businesses that invested in the scheme were already under pressure and the tariff cuts added more financial pain.

The UFU provided oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee regarding these changes to the RHI, making it clear then that farmers were literally paying the price for the gross negligence of politicians and civil servants.

UFU deputy president Victor Chesnutt said, “The tariff cuts have created a massive financial black hole and farmers are struggling to find ways to subsidise uneconomic RHI boilers elsewhere in their businesses. The scheme is so unworkable now that many farmers are reverting to fossil fuels.”

Now that sufficient evidence has been found, can there be a new renewable energy scheme in place for Northern Ireland?

*https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-51840287

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