Northern Ireland news

Legal action over cuts to RHI payments will influence cost of closing controversial scheme, Court of Appeal rules

LEGAL action over cuts to Renewable Heat Incentive payments will influence the anticipated multi-million pound cost of closing the scheme, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Judges held that a case which could determine the amount of compensation for participants should not be put on hold.

The challenge mounted by Co Antrim poultry farmer Tom Forgrave will now be heard before the summer.

The Department for the Economy had secured an adjournment amid public consultation on shutting down the scheme and making total payments of up to £68m.

But Mr Justice O'Hara allowed an appeal against that postponement after pointing out RHI boiler owners could be in a "significantly better position".

He said: "If the scheme is to close, a matter which is entirely for the Executive, the basis or terms on which it is to close will be influenced by the outcome of this litigation."

The case centre on legislation introduced in 2019 which meant annual subsidies for those on the green energy initiative could be cut from £13,000 to £2,000.

Boiler owners signed up to the RHI scheme claim it was a further unlawful step against operators given a 20-year guaranteed rate of return on their investments.

Set up to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to switch to wood pellet burning systems, the initiative was plunged into controversy after the potential cost to taxpayers emerged.

Members of the Renewable Heat Association NI Ltd are also appealing a previous ruling that the Department of the Economy was legally entitled to impose an earlier cut on tariff rates.

Initially listed for hearing at the High Court in Belfast this month, Mr Forgrave's challenge was adjourned due to a consultation exercise launched by the Executive.

But Mr Forgrave's lawyers argued that the consultation was based on the 2019 regulations being lawful - an issue still to be judicially determined.

Co Antrim poultry farmer Tom Forgrave

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