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Disquiet is growing over renewable heat scheme

The Christmas holiday period may have provided a brief respite for Arlene Foster over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal, but it is clear she will have further searching questions to answer in the New Year.

It is accepted that one of the biggest flaws in this scheme was the lack of cost control measures - or tiering - similar to those included in the green energy initiative introduced in Britain.

As a result, RHI ended up paying businesses who signed up to the scheme considerably more than the price of fuel, leading to claims of widespread abuse such as heating empty sheds simply to earn money.

It has been estimated that the cost to the Northern Ireland taxpayer over the 20 year life of the scheme will be around £490 million.

However, finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has warned that the figure could reach as much as £600 million.

Either amount represents a shocking waste of public money.

The failure to impose tariffs remains a crucial issue at the heart of this fiasco.

The embattled first minister, who was Deti minister during the inception of the RHI scheme, has spoken of her deep political regret at the failure to cap subsidies.

The DUP has also insisted that no recommendations on introducing tiering came before the minister.

It has now emerged that more than a year before the launch of RHI, a number of firms that had been asked for views on the detailed development plan, had expressed concerns.

These were companies that had an interest in this area and included energy firm Airtricity which advised Deti there should be caps on payments and close monitoring of meters to ensure `perverse incentives to over-generate can be avoided.'

Others urged rigorous mechanisms from the outset to prevent abuse of the scheme and warned against setting the rate too high as this could lead people to burn fuel simply to make money.

These companies clearly had a firm grasp of the potential pitfalls of the incentive scheme and the question is what cognisance was taken of the views which had been sought and provided.

It seems the more information that is disclosed about this ill-fated scheme, the more questions that are being raised.

Public disquiet about this entire initiative is growing. In the New Year people are entitled to expect full disclosure of all information relating to RHI, a detailed explanation from those involved in the decisions which have led to this situation and a realistic, costed plan to recoup public money.

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