DUP spad Andrew Crawford didn't know RHI subsidy was incentive to 'burn to earn'
THE DUP special adviser who emailed internal Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) documents to his poultry farmer cousin has claimed he never knew how lucrative the scheme was.
Andrew Crawford told the RHI inquiry that for most of the time the scheme operated he was unaware that the subsidy paid was greater than the price of wood pellets – the central flaw that incentivised some claimants to 'burn to earn'.
"At no stage did I sit down when the scheme was being formed or being developed and work out what was the price of pellets versus what was the return on the scheme," he said.
Mr Crawford, who was special adviser to enterprise minister Arlene Foster when the RHI was developed and launched in autumn 2012, said he became aware that there were a large number of people installing biomass boilers nearly three years into the scheme but never associated the high uptake with its generous subsidy.
The former special adviser, who told the inquiry last week that he still works for the DUP, said he "didn't envisage" that the scheme would be structured in a manner that paid people "to earn as you burn".
"I just assumed, wrongly now, that there would be checks in the system to stop that happening," he said.
"I didn't think the scheme would be set up to allow people to take advantage of it and effectively waste heat."
The inquiry heard that in July 2013 Mr Crawford emailed his cousin, Richard Crawford, a draft consultation document on potential changes to the RHI scheme. His cousin would later became a claimant of the scheme, installing six RHI boilers.
The DUP special adviser's witness statement to the inquiry said he was "not aware" of ever having breached any codes of conduct by making unauthorised disclosures. Asked why the inquiry wasn't originally made aware of the email, he said he had "no recollection" of sending it.
Mr Crawford voiced regret at his actions.
"I shouldn't have sent it through to him – I want to apologise for it, it was wrong," he said.
The inquiry also heard that shortly after the scheme's launch, Mrs Foster's department received a copy of letter from a Co Tyrone businessman flagging up the RHI's "perverse incentive" for poultry farmers.
Cookstown-based Renewable Energy Manufacturing (REM), a firm selling a technology that turned poultry litter into heat, wrote to the then environment minister Alex Attwood, highlighting how some farmers were installing several small boilers rather than one large unit in order to receive a greater return.
The letter was passed on to Mrs Foster's department, which subsequently responded by giving assurances that the businessman's claims about multiple boilers was "not the case".
The inquiry again heard about correspondence from the minister who launched the RHI in Britain.
Last week, during Mrs Foster's evidence, it was revealed that Whitehall environment minister Greg Barker – now Lord Barker of Battle – had flagged up the need to put cost controls in place but the DUP leader never saw the key correspondence.
The inquiry heard yesterday that the Stormont department failed to reply to a later letter in May 2013 about budget protection measures being implemented in Britain.
Officials at the Mrs Foster's department said the letter was "similar" to the earlier letter from Mr Barker and therefore no action was necessary.
However, the inquiry heard that the earlier letter referred to entirely different matters and the opportunity to alert Mrs Foster to the need for cost controls was missed. changes wasn't taken.
Mr Crawford said neither he nor the minister received the letter but "the minister should've seen all the correspondence coming from a Westminster department".
The inquiry's junior counsel Joseph Aiken said the episode proved the Stormont department was "dysfunctional".
Mr Crawford is expected to return to give evidence in the coming weeks. Mrs Foster is scheduled to give evidence today and tomorrow.