Plan to inspect RHI boilers on hold

Plans to carry out inspections on 100% of RHI boilers have been shelved
Plans to carry out inspections on 100% of RHI boilers have been shelved

Plans to carry out inspections of all non-domestic boilers used in the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme have been put on hold.

The Department for the Economy had pledged to procure an independent external organisation to undertake a detailed on-site inspection of all non-domestic RHI installations, in a bid to determine how long they were being used.

This review had been expected to start this summer.

However, the initial procurement process has been unsuccessful, and the department now intends to run a “pilot programme” of inspections.

The revelation came in a NI Audit Office report into how the RHI scheme operated during 2016/17, which was published this week;.

The department was not able to say how many installations would now be inspected.

The pilot programme is expected to take place in the second half of 2017.

TUV leader Jim Allister hit out at the department’s “broken promise” over the RHI inspections, saying it “only added to the debacle”.

Mr Allister said: “Within six months of the soothing promise that every RHI boiler would be inspected, in a determined effort to root out fraud, we now discover it isn’t going to happen.

“The fact that this was revealed not by the Department of the Economy but by the Audit Office adds to the transparency issues within government.

“The fact that Ofgem [the energy regulator] – whose inspection processes failed during the establishment of the scheme – is to be involved in the substitute pilot inspection programme will do nothing for public confidence.

“The revelation by the Audit Office of just how dramatically the level of excessive claims fell once tariff controls were introduced underscores the folly of Arlene Foster in approving an uncontrolled scheme in the first place.”

DUP leader Mrs Foster headed up the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the RHI scheme was set up in 2012.

The initiative was designed to encourage energy production from renewable sources.

But crucial controls to limit the scheme’s cost were not introduced, allowing claimants to earn more cash the more fuel they burned. The budget quickly spiralled as a result.

Mrs Foster came under intense pressure to stand down over her role in the scandal, but has always maintained she had followed official advice regarding the scheme.

Ultimately, her time as First Minister was brought to an abrupt end when Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned over the issue in January, a move which collapsed the NI Executive.

An inquiry into the RHI scheme is due to get underway later in the year.

The Department for the Economy said it is “fully committed to carrying out a full programme of site inspections on RHI boiler installations”.

A spokesperson added: “It is currently working with Ofgem to put in place a pilot programme of inspections to cover technical checks and business analysis.

“Results from the pilot will be used to inform the way forward and the timeline for completing inspections of all installations. We will provide further details about the pilot programme as soon as possible.”