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Ex-UFU president defends expected £1.6m government subsidy through RHI

John Gilliland, former president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, has three RHI boilers on his farm

A FORMER president of the Ulster Farmers' Union has defended an expected £1.6 million government subsidy he expects to receive through the RHI scheme over a 20-year period.

John Gilliland confirmed he has three RHI boilers on his 180 acre farm in Derry and expects to earn £80,000 a year from the scheme over the next two decades.

Speaking to The Irish News, Mr Gilliland said despite the projected £490 million cost to the public purse, he still believes the RHI scheme is "still right today, as it was when it was first set up".

But he said he is "deeply concerned" that RHI scheme members would be "unfairly demonised" if their details are released publicly and he has urged Stormont to "think carefully" before changing the contracts already agreed with users.

"These are legitimate people using it for legitimate purposes and I feel that those people are being made a pariah in their own community because they weren't able to clear their name before it went out," he said.

"I am putting my details into the public domain, I've no problem doing that and I'm happy to give all my data...I have nothing to hide.

"I own seven biomass boilers of which three are in the scheme. There are three houses on the farm, some (of the boilers) do those and we have Ireland's first wood energy visitors centre so we bring schools and wider interested people to us and actually explain that we build the trees, we harvest the trees, we process the wood etc.

"Two of the three boilers are currently working, the third one hasn't drawn down one penny after last year when I had a massive fire and I lost 80 per cent of my whole infrastructure and the third one was damaged.

"The two boilers we currently use, we currently use them 24/7 because they're on an industrial process, they actually dry my wood chip...and that's absolutely in compliance with the scheme.

"But I have a problem in how this has all been handled and a lot of people are in the scheme because of me. I was the pioneer, I did most of the innovation, encouraged by various governments, various ministers - both direct rule and devolved governments.

"My phone has not stopped ringing with people saying, listen we are really scared."

Mr Gilliland, head of the UFU from 2001 to 2003, claims he has reduced the carbon greenhouse gas footprint on his farm by 26 per cent through RHI, but said his research and development of green energy has cost him around £2.5 million.

"Even in the 20-year life expectancy, in my case I will never get to a profit situation, but I will start to repay some of my R&D costs," he said.

Mr Gilliland added: "In the last four weeks, I've kept my mouth shut, but people have forgotten that we as a society need to do something about sustainability and reducing our environmental footprint.

"The key reason for setting up is still right today as it was when it was set up. We still need to find bright, smart solutions of how we mitigate our environmental footprint".

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