RHI scandal: Documents show Foster asked for letter to banks before launch

Arlene Foster wrote to the banks in January 2013
Arlene Foster wrote to the banks in January 2013

Arlene Foster suggested to her officials that she write to the banks reassuring them about the generous nature of RHI subsidies – and made the suggestion before the scheme was even launched.

Documents released to the News Letter show that Mrs Foster’s letter – which amounted to a personal cast-iron RHI funding guarantee – was first conceived in September 2012; two months before the RHI scheme was launched.

Mrs Foster’s January 2013 letter to the banks – which the DUP released to the News Letter in late December – said that RHI was set up to be “attractive to investors”.

Crucially, she said that tariffs were “grandfathered ... regardless of future reviews”, a legal term meaning that they are exempt from future legislative changes.

The DUP has now put through the Assembly legislation which shows that the tariffs were not in fact grandfathered and have been retrospectively slashed.

Mrs Foster made the suggestion at a meeting of the Sustainable Energy Inter-Departmental Working Group, which she chaired, on September 5 2012.

The minutes of the meeting state: “Andrew Crawford [Mrs Foster’s Spad] asked [official’s name removed] how the introduction of the RHI impacted on DARD’s Biomass Processing Challenge Fund. In reply, [name removed] advised that the RHI was referred to in the guidance to applicants. He also highlighted the ongoing problems encountered by applicants trying to secure financial support from lenders to install renewable energy kit.

“The minister advised that she would write to the main banks to explain how the incentive mechanisms operate in an effort to educate and encourage more positive outcomes.”

The documents have been released by the Department for the Economy under the Environmental Information Regulations.

The official submission to Mrs Foster with the draft letter has also been released, showing that the letter appears to have been drafted by senior official Fiona Hepper.