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Co Tyrone poultry business and Derry pallet maker among highest RHI claimants

Biomass boilers installed at a poultry business owned by Paul Hobson Ltd. Picture from Alternative Heat
Claire Simpson and Gareth McKeown

A Co Tyrone poultry business and one of Ireland's biggest producers of wooden pallets are among the firms who have claimed the highest sums under the botched RHI scheme.

Paul Hobson Ltd, a poultry company based outside Dungannon, had received £659,540 for 13 boilers by February 28 this year.

RHI: Chicken and turkey farmers are prominent

Paul Hobson and Jeremy Hobson are listed as directors of the company, with Jeremy Hobson having featured in a BBC documentary about poultry farming, The Chicken People, in 2015.

The firm is one of the largest producers for Moy Park - the biggest poultry-production business in the north.

Paul Hobson Ltd could not be contacted for comment last night.

The second-biggest recipient is Eglinton (Timber Products), based in Eglinton outside Derry. It has received a total of £538,885 for seven boilers.

The firm, owned by the Blair family, produces more than 1.2 million timber pallets a year and is also a specialist in 'heat treating' pallets for export to prevent the spread of wood-born pests.

It applied to the RHI scheme in late October 2015 during a spike in applications before Stormont capped tariffs.

Third on the list is another poultry firm, Mcllroy Farms. The business, based outside Coleraine, Co Derry, has been given £513,312 for running six boilers.

McIlroy Farms has one listed director, Graham Oliver McIlroy.

Ecobiomass NI, the fourth-highest claimant, has received £476,383 to date.

The Co Tyrone firm, established by Dungannon businessman Tom Spence, has 10 boilers and made applications in October and November 2015 at the height of the scheme.

It dries woodchips at a warehouse at Kildress, off the main Omagh to Cookstown road.

The 65-year-old businessman told the Ulster Herald in January he was concerned about being "criminalised" and accused the media of "scaremongering" over its coverage of the RHI scandal.

"We simply availed of the opportunity that was there and presented to us," he said.

"There is nothing illegal about that, there's certainly nothing to be demonised or criminalised about."

Other claimants further down the list include motor sales firm Charles Hurst, which has been paid £257,127, and Glenvilla Ultimate Dryers Ltd, a business run by former Ulster Farmers' Union president Harry Sinclair which has received £49,088.

Meanwhile, Stormont's agriculture department is shown to be using biomass to heat Greenmount and Loughry Colleges, and the Belfast Trust, several nursing homes, golf clubs and churches are also on the list.

The National Trust's Giant's Causeway visitor centre is part of the scheme, as are other properties owned by the conservation charity including Crom Estate in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh, and Springhill House in Moneymore, Co Derry.

Hotels including the Glenavon House in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, and the Burrendale in Newcastle, Co Down, also signed up.

Ballyclare-based Volvo lorry dealer Dennison Commercials Ltd was the 14th-highest claimant, receiving a total of £343,734.72 in subsidy payments.

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Director Michael Petticrew told The Irish News yesterday that getting involved in RHI was "not without risk".

He said the company's 11 biomass boilers were supplying a heat demand that was previously met by "using tens of thousands of litres of oil per year".

"Our oil burners were done and needing replaced and at the time we went to find out what technologies were available and we became aware of the biomass technology," he said.

"So we now have 11 boilers and instead of burning tens of thousands of litres of oil from overseas we're burning wood pellets grown here in Northern Ireland."

He said the company spent £650,000 installing the wood pellet boilers when it could have simply stuck with cheaper oil burners.

Mr Petticrew added that the scheme has a "pretty significant pay back time".

"We are pleased with the result, we are pleased with the installation, we are pleased with the heat that is delivered and we can see the advantages financially as well. If it weren't for the advantages we would have spent £50,000 and be burning oil.

"I had to sit at a board table and explain that I was wanting to spend an extra £650,000 in the local economy with a local provider to install an innovative system, so our business has taken an enormous amount of risk."

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