RHI scandal: Inspections of boilers to begin next week
INSPECTIONS of boilers funded under the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme are to begin next week.
In the initial stage, at least 20 sites will be visited - a small number given than the scheme supports 1,270 businesses with 2,100 wood pellet boilers.
A second phase of inspections will then be put out to tender in late autumn. However not all sites may be inspected.
Flaws in the RHI scheme have meant that claimants can make extra money by burning more fuel than they need. The project has left taxpayers facing a £490 million bill and contributed to the collapse of Stormont's power-sharing institutions in January.
Inspectors will check the businesses are complying with the regulations and that boilers are not simply burning pellets to profit from the scheme's generous payments.
Half of the inspections will be unannounced. If inspectors find the boilers are not being used as they should, restrictions can be put in place.
The inspections are due to begin on Monday of next week. The announcement comes after plans to inspect all boiler sites by November of this year had to be shelved because a suitable contractor could not be found.
The Renewable Heat Association, a group representing hundreds of RHI boiler owners, welcomed the beginning of the inspections.
But it added that the announcement had been "broadcast on Twitter" by the Department for the Economy and said it was concerned that communication between the department and beneficiaries of the scheme had broken down.
Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir welcomed the inspections but said it was disappointing that not all sites would be scrutinised.
"Nevertheless, it is welcome that this work is underway and it can hopefully begin the process of reducing the potential cost to the public purse," he said.
"However, the crisis in public confidence which was sparked by the RHI scandal will take much more to repair. There needs to be full accountability for the failings that led to this scheme being put in place and integrity and respect in government to ensure nothing like this ever happens again."