Northern Ireland news

Informal sharing of information lead to 'flood' of RHI applications

Sir Patrick Coghlin is chairing the RHI Inquiry. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The RHI inquiry has heard an attempt to stop the flawed scheme led to a flood of applications.

The panel chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, heard that the Enterprise Department got involved in informal information sharing with the biomass industry in the summer of 2015.

Officials claimed they feared a formal consultation could lead to an applications spike. However, the sharing of this information resulted in a rise in applications.

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The scheme, set up in 2012, encouraged businesses to switch from fossil fuels to renewable heat sources.

However, claimants could effectively earn more money the more fuel they burned because of the generous subsidies on offer.

Almost 1000 boilers were accredited to the scheme in the three months before the cuts took effect in November.

John Mills, head of energy division in the Department of Enterprise, said there had been “naivety” about the scale of information shared by officials Stuart Wightman and Seamus Hughes.

The inquiry has already heard that they told poultry giant Moy Park about upcoming changes in tariffs.

There is evidence that some installers passed the information on to other industry contacts and potential customers driving the demand for boilers which would be eligible for the more generous subsidy.

Mr Mills said there were “all sorts of arguments that you don’t get something for nothing in consultation with people”.

He said he believed they were walking a fine line between consulting with the industry to prevent legal challenge to the policy proposals, and “telling them too much”.

Mr Mills also said there should have been less promotion in the summer of 2015 when officials already knew the forecast spend was twice the available budget.

Read more: The Renewable Heat Incentive

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