The Ulster Unionist Party’s East Antrim MLA, Roy Beggs, has asked if the reason why successive DETI Ministers avoided addressing the defective Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was because they thought that Westminster would be paying for it rather than the block grant.
Roy Beggs MLA, a former Deputy chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
“It has been estimated that the RHI scheme could cost the NI Executive an extra £400m over the next 20 years and the public are quite rightly asking questions, including why ministers and officials failed to address the gaping flaws in the scheme.
“One possible explanation may be that they thought the Westminster Government was picking up the tab rather than the Northern Ireland block grant.
“However, in the summer of 2015, Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), sent a letter to DETI in which she stated “I confirm my position that should you maintain a different policy … than in GB, the cost impact of that decision should not be funded by GB consumers.”
“Surely this should have been when the penny finally dropped for those running the scheme in Northern Ireland? This letter implies that there had been a previous discussion on the issue of who would pay for renewable energy schemes. 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.
“This letter may well be the first time local ministers received confirmation that they and not Westminster were liable.
“It is telling that in the foreword to the consultation paper on ‘Closure of the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation to new onshore wind in 2016’ – published in September 2015 – Jonathan Bell, the then DETI Minister stated:
‘Whilst renewable energy in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter, it is clear from discussions with DECC that should we maintain a different policy on the NIRO closure to new onshore wind than in GB, the cost impact of that decision would be borne solely by the relatively small number of NI consumers rather than by all consumers across the UK.’
“Jonathan Bell clearly indicated that the cost being borne by NI consumers alone was the driver for change in that scheme. It should have been obvious that this would equally have implications for the Renewable Heat Incentive which did not actually close until 29th February 2016.
“The RHI scheme in Northern Ireland has delivered a shocking waste of public funds and has been seen to encourage some unscrupulous wasteful burning of energy for profit. Furthermore, it has added to CO2 emissions rather than reducing them. If this situation is due to the decision makers’ mistaken belief that UK tax payers would be picking up the tab for such a flawed scheme, wasting hundreds of millions of pounds of public money in the process, then it is nothing less than shameful.”