30/06/2017

RHI Scheme: Watchdog Raises 'Significant Concerns'

Ten boilers installed during the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme ran for over 21 hours a day last year, a watchdog has said.

The botched RHI scheme paid subsidies worth at least £50,000 per machine, with each burning wood pellets for more than 21 hours a day, according to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO).

The devices were installed before November 2015 when the scheme was modified to reduce the taxpayer bill.

Comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly said: "I continue to have significant concerns about the operation of this scheme and the serious systemic weaknesses in controls that have facilitated the possibility of funding that is at best not in line with the spirit of the scheme and at worst is fraudulent."

The report said:

• Of 1,687 boilers in the scheme before November 2015, 39 per cent are using them for more than half the available hours in a year – "more than 12 hours a day and seven days a week all year round" – with an RHI subsidy per boiler in 2016/17 of at least £28,000.

• Ten are being used for 90 per cent or more of available hours, creating a subsidy per boiler of at least £50,000 in 2016/17.

• There is a considerably different pattern of usage in the revised scheme after November 2015. Of the 251 installed and operating, 96 per cent were being used for 30 per cent or less of the hours in a year and only one used for more than 50 per cent.

• Out of 2,128 boilers in the scheme, 1,419 were part of multiple installations at 437 single sites.
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The auditor said: "I am concerned at the extent of the use of multiple boilers which allowed applicants to claim a considerably higher level of subsidy payments than would have been payable for installations with a single boiler of a more appropriate size greater than 100kW (or 200kW after November 2015)."

The state-funded RHI was supposed to offer a proportion of the cost businesses had to pay to run eco-friendly boilers, but the subsidy tariffs were set too high, and without a cap, so it ended up paying out significantly more than the price of fuel.

This enabled some applicants to "burn to earn" - getting free heat and making a profit as they did so.

An independent inquiry has been launched.

Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Donnelly following the publication of his report.

He said: "Many ordinary people will be shocked to get confirmation that the RHI scheme cost us £27m in 2016/’17 and is on course to cost us a further £2m in this financial year.

"The £2m cost shows that Arlene Foster's pledge in January to bring forward a zero cost solution to RHI was worthless.

"The British public will be equally shocked to hear that they face a £22m bill this year for a scheme which in the words of the C&AG has, 'serious systemic weaknesses in controls that have facilitated the possibility of funding that is at best not in line with the spirit of the scheme and at worst is fraudulent'.

"The projected costs up to 2037 for the north are around £70m and aprroximately £400m to the British Treasury.

"These revelations about the squandering of public money underline the vital role of Judge Coghlin's public inquiry in getting to the truth of the RHI scandal."

(CD)

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