Hundreds of quotations to replace biomass boilers with fossil fuel heating systems are being sought by RHI claimants, a figure from the biomass industry has said.
This week the House of Lords agreed to pass radical cuts to RHI subsidies which had been guaranteed for 20 years, cutting the earning potential of a typical boiler by 96%.
Stormont’s Department for the Economy (DfE) has confidently said that the cuts will not have an impact on Northern Ireland’s attempts to promote green energy because wood pellets are the cheapest form of fuel on the market and therefore it would not make sense for anyone with a biomass boiler to revert to more expensive fossil fuels.
However, that assertion was this week challenged by the Renewable Heat Association, which represents most boiler owners. It said that there were a series of glaring inaccuracies in the department’s calculations and that there was virtually no cost difference between the cost of wood pellets and LPG for Moy Park’s farmers, who get discounted gas through the poultry processor.
The group said that there were then multiple other factors – such as the increased maintenance costs of the complex biomass systems and the increased electricity costs to run them – which made fossil fuels more attractive.
Jamie Kidney from wood pellet distributor kWh Supply told the News Letter that he had spoken to one installer of gas boilers which in recent weeks had quoted for the replacement of over 100 biomass systems. He said that he was aware of another boiler installer which had quoted for a similar number of reversions to fossil fuels.
This week there was concern in the House of Lords about whether they should be relying on data from the department which has consistently presided over RHI being a mess since its launch more than six years ago.
Mr Kidney said: “The information that DfE peddle is factually incorrect. Their arguments that attempt to justify the difference between RHI tariff of £2,000 in Northern Ireland and £13,000 in Great Britain are nonsensical.
“Biomass boilers were all supplied from Europe and they did not cost less in Northern Ireland than in Britain. DfE’s assertion about the cost of fuel is equally illogical.
“Incompetence was clearly demonstrated in the structuring and administering of the RHI to the extent that it merited a public inquiry. It is absurd that the department central to the whole fiasco should now be entrusted with the responsibility for the future of the RHI in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, no one in government has been able to provide any clarity about what the concession made by the government to get the RHI cuts through the House of Lords will mean.
On Tuesday night, NIO minister Lord Duncan persuaded Lord Empey to drop a bid to delay the cuts – a proposal which had support from all sides of the House of Lords – after proposing an independent chairman to examine each case of hardship by RHI claimants.
When asked by the News Letter how that would operate, the NIO offered no comment. Stormont’s Department for the Economy said it was “currently considering the issue” and would give details “in due course”.