Six alarms went unheeded

Posted By: December 31, 2016

Andrew Madden. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, December 31, 2016

THE LATEST revelations surrounding the Renewable Heat Initiative scheme brings the total number of missed warnings about flaws in its development to six.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti), led by Arlene Foster, launched the scheme in November 2012.

* On Thursday, The Irish News revealed that September 2011, more than a year before its launch, 13 companies, and other bodies responded to a consultation detailing concerns with “over-incentivization” in the initiative. Green energy consortium Biomass Energy Northern Ireland (BENI) warned that claimants would use multiple small boilers, which came with a higher tariff, to make more money.

Leading energy firm Airtricity said the scheme must be closely monitored to ensure “perverse incentives to over-generate can be avoided.”

* In early September 2013, a whistleblower emailed Arlene Foster raising her concerns about the scheme being abused.

“Given the benefits of RHI we find that many of our potential customers are no longer worried about becoming more efficient,” she wrote.

“In fact it pays them to use as much as they can. The incentive to use more is leading to misuse in some cases.”

* The following month, BENI responded to a second Deti consultation, which this time proposed expanding the scheme and making it even more lucrative. They repeated their concerns and said that the previous abuses they had warned against were now “very apparent” on the ground. Flaws in the scheme were “leading to a plethora of multiple but separate systems and a demand to undersize boilers; just to stay within the higher tariff rate, ” they wrote.

* Eight months later in May 2014, the original whistleblower sent a follow-up email to Arlene Foster repeating their concerns.

* In Autumn 2015 renegade DUP MLA Jonathan Bell, who took over from Mr. Foster as Deti minister the previous May, alleged that special advisers within the party prevented him from abruptly closing the scheme, which by this point was spiraling out of control.

“Factually it is on the record I wanted to close the scheme on the 1st of October. The outside interference of the special advisers ensured that the scheme was kept open for another four weeks.”

* In January 2016, a second whistleblower contacted Mrs. Foster – now first minister – identifying how a farm shed and factories with large boilers were running heat 24 hours a day just to make money.

The scheme was not closed until early this year.