Northern Ireland news

Moy Park business decisions fuelled demand for botched RHI scheme, inquiry told

Poultry farmer Tom Forgrave has received almost £750,000 under the RHI scheme
John Monaghan

BUSINESS decisions taken by poultry giant Moy Park drove up demand for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, one of the company's biggest suppliers has told the public inquiry into the botched green energy initiative.

Tom Forgrave has ten boilers on the RHI scheme and produces more than one million chickens per year.

Last year it emerged that he has received almost £750,000 from the RHI scheme for his farm. The inquiry was told that the total cost of the installation was more than £500,000.

Mr Forgrave is also a former chair of the Ulster Farmers Union poultry committee and a founder and director of Renewable Heat Association Northern Ireland, which went to court in an attempt to prevent claimants being identified.

The RHI scheme paid recipients more in subsidies than the cost of heating the systems, and its estimated overspend is £700 million over 20 years.

Speaking at the inquiry yesterday, Mr Forgrave denied suggestions he installed biomass boilers to generate the maximum subsidy.

The poultry farmer was described as a "top class RHI farmer" in late 2015 by a senior Moy Park official, David Mark, in an email to another work colleague.

Mr Forgrave said it was a "very personal, very outspoken claim".

"I'm quite shocked by his's an awful assumption on his part, I think, to label me the way he has."

Mr Forgrave said that he had taken out a substantial bank loan to cover the initial outlay of more than £200,000 and said it was the "commercial reality" that made him choose separate 99kw boilers in two of his eight poultry sheds.

"That is what makes it lucrative," replied inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin.

"The word lucrative at no point crossed my mind," Mr Forgrave retorted.

The inquiry heard that senior Moy Park executives were recommending the biomass boilers, telling farmers at one event in Co Tyrone in 2015 that they could earn £10,000 a year more by switching.

The firm was also aiming to increase its weekly target from four to six million birds between 2010 and 2018, subsiding 95 per cent of the cost of new poultry farms by repaying farmers who took out bank loans.

The company estimates that 62 per cent of its producers are on the RHI scheme.

"The effect of these decisions by Moy Park is almost certainly going to drive most poultry farmers, some of them more quickly than others, into the RHI scheme?" asked junior counsel Donal Lunny.

Mr Forgrave replied: "Yes", adding that he agreed that this was something that Moy Park would have known.

Internal Moy Park emails showed the firm was concerned about producers overheating or generating unnecessary heat, with one exchange detailing how 'catch teams' sent in to retrieve poultry had to change their tops four times in one night due to the temperature.

Mr Forgrave said he had "never heard of the phrase cash-for-ash until December 2016" and added no-one had spoken to him about events which were promoting the benefits of RHI to poultry farmers.

"What I find difficult to understand is that nobody spoke to you about any of the events we have heard about or the benefits of the scheme. That is your evidence?," asked Sir Patrick Coghlin.

"Yes," he replied.

The inquiry returns on Tuesday, when Emer Morelli from the Department of Finance is due to give evidence.

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