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Renewable Energy Scandal Rocks Britain

BBC News

The cost of the botched renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme to the Northern Ireland taxpayer will be £490m, the Department for the Economy has said. The scheme was run by offering £1.40 in subsidies for every £1 spent on heating.

The original estimate for the scheme given at an Assembly committee hearing was £400m over 20 years.

On Friday, the DfE said £490m would be “the maximum burden” on the budget.

The way the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was set up in Northern Ireland meant the subsidies offered were greater than the cost of the fuel.[The scheme was run by offering £1.40 for every £1 spent on heating.]

The green scheme was set up by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment under the stewardship of now First Minister Arlene Foster in 2012 to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.

In what has been dubbed the “cash-for-ash” scandal, the flawed scheme meant users could legitimately earn more cash the more fuel they burned.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the DfE said: “In regard to the cost of the RHI scheme, the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report estimated the 20-year costs of the scheme, if nothing is done, to be £1,150m.

“C&AG stated this involves ‘a number of uncertainties’ and represents ‘the best estimate of the worst case’.

“Based on a forecasted 3% Barnett share of the allocation for the GB scheme, the projected available budget is £660m. Based on those published figures, the maximum burden on the Northern Ireland budget would be £490m. “

The spokesperson said the department had been developing proposals for changes to RHI which, if accepted, could lead to a significant reduction in future costs to the NI Executive. The detailed discussion included legal advice and engagement with the European Commission.

Earlier, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir claimed the cost could be “the best part of £600m”. He told BBC Radio Ulster that hundreds of people were “using heat in an ineligible way”.

“Anyone heating an empty shed has been stealing public money,” he added.

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see also: Renewable Heat Incentive scandal