Northern Ireland news

Generously subsidised farm waste to energy scheme will 'dwarf RHI scandal'

An anaerobic digestion plant

A STORMONT-backed scheme that turns farm waste into electricity will "dwarf the RHI scandal" in terms of the sums paid and the environmental damage caused, it was claimed last night.

Friends of the Earth director James Orr said the public had been "hoodwinked" by a scheme that was based ostensibly on protecting the environment.

In 2011, the then enterprise minister Arlene Foster increased the level of renewable electricity subsidy for anaerobic digestion, a process that turns farm waste into biogas which is then used to generate power.

Northern Ireland's renewables subsidy is thought to be four times greater than the corresponding payment in Britain.

It is paid for by households and businesses through their electricity bills.

BBC Radio 4's File on Four programme last night aired claims that the north's agrifood industry lobbied Stormont officials to get increased support for anaerobic digestion.

The growth in the number of anaerobic digestion plants over recent years coincides with the expansion of the north's poultry industry, which was financed in part by RHI subsidies.

However, the high level of ammonia and other harmful pollutants in farm waste poses a major environmental problem.

But according to Mr Orr, anaerobic digestion is a "failed technology" that does not remove the harmful compounds from the farm waste.

"I believe this scandal will dwarf RHI in terms of the sums squandered and the environmental damage that ensues," he told The Irish News.

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