JUST minutes were needed to realise there were serious flaws in the botched green energy scheme that has left Stormont facing an overspend of hundreds of millions of pounds, a whistleblower has said.
Dubbed “the biggest scandal since devolution began”, the Renewable Heat Incentive was designed to wean businesses off fossil fuels, with uptake among the north’s poultry farmers especially strong.
It encouraged the installation of costly eco-friendly heating systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period.
But unlike in Britain, Northern Ireland placed no cap or payment tier system on the money that could be claimed in proportion to the size of boiler and the hours it was operated.
That effectively enabled businesses to burn unnecessary heat 24/7 just to make money.
Management of the scheme is being examined by Stormont’s public accounts committee.
Thousands signed up to the RHI – a deluge that ultimately forced its closure, but not before Stormont had been left exposed to a huge overspend.
More than £1 billion of public money is due to be paid by 2036 to Northern Ireland-based businesses which signed up. Almost half of that will be paid out by the Executive.
Now, the whistleblower at the centre of the scandal has told how just “five minutes of research” was needed to realise there were serious flaws.
The woman told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show that it was obvious there were opportunities for fraud and she contacted Arlene Foster, then enterprise minister, in 2013.
Mrs Foster, who passed the concerns on to officials, has robustly rejected calls to resign over her handling of the RHI.
The whistleblower, who runs a heating company, said she also contacted the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in both 2014 and 2015 but her warnings were not acted on.
She said people were “basically being incentivised to have the heat on and kept on”.
“It felt like I was hitting a brick wall. It took five minutes of a just a normal person looking online to realise it wasn’t right,” she said.
“Their total answer to me and leaving comment was ‘We don’t think people will do that’. I said they will and they are, because that’s what’s happening on the ground.
“I would go into hotels, maybe care homes, and it would be 24 degrees outside, the heat’s still on and the windows are open. I went into an office one time, not that long ago, and they (the business) were tenants. It was really warm, they had the windows open. Basically the landlord was just heating all the time.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs yesterday claimed DETI ministers may not have addressed the scheme because they thought Westminster was paying for it.
“There must be an explanation why such a generous scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland without the checks and balances that existed in GB; and why the many warnings to the then DETI minister Arlene Foster and officials were not acted upon,” he said.
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