RHI owners: We support closure of the energy scheme to new applicants, but not to existing ones

The Department for the Economy should close RHI.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 1:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 1:55 pm
Andrew Trimble, left, chairman of the Renewable Heat Association Northern Ireland (RHANI), with Tom Forgrave, director of outside the High Court in Belfast in 2017 for their judicial review case on changes to RHI

This might seem an odd suggestion given that I chair the association representing scheme participants in the energy scheme and given that a consultation suggesting this, closed last Friday but it is not, and I shall explain why.

On March 31, the UK national RHI scheme was closed: it closed to new applicants.

After closure, the 17,000 participating businesses and farms in the national RHI scheme will continue to receive quarterly rebates at the promised rate, index-linked and paid until 2043.

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Critically, appropriate measures are in place to ensure that there is no reversion to cheaper, polluting fossil fuels. The supply chain for renewable fuel and service support, will be protected.

The NI RHI Scheme has been suspended to new applicants since May 2016: it has not yet been closed by an Act of the Assembly.

The proposed RHI scheme closure outlined in Friday’s consultation Northern Ireland doesn’t mean ‘closure’ in the national, GB sense. Here, it means termination: termination of the guarantees and promises and legal rights of those who had invested in the expensive, necessary hardware – and termination of a support scheme that has fifteen years to run.

The consultation on the “future of RHI,” had the same title as the RHI consultation in 2018. A 2020 consultation had a different title but a similar purpose – to correct mistakes made in all earlier DfE calculations. But Friday’s consultation started with a series of (incorrect) figures and assumptions. It discusses options – with the Executive’s preferred option - compulsory buy-out - using their calculations.

Like a lengthy mathematics question, an error at the start will carry through to the final answer.

Errors there are many. We pointed these out in summer of 2018.

We did so again to the House of Commons Committee inquiry in 2019, to the Buglass Review of Economic Hardship caused and in response to the consultation in May 2020. We have done so again — supported by an independent report which analyses DfE’s approach and calculations.

We even sent our responses to the minister, Mrs Dodds, personally.

The section of ‘New decade, New Approach’ that suggests that DfE RHI should close also proposes that the executive should recognise climate change and set about steering the economy for a green recovery.

In a climate emergency why terminate the only operating, environmentally friendly, green energy scheme for heating in Northern Ireland? If terminated, 1,800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide will be released as users revert to cheaper, polluting, fossil fuels.

It might (in some circles) make for popular politics. It is not the best or the right thing to do for the environment.

Close RHI, do not terminate it.

• Andrew Trimble is the Chair of the Renewable Heat Association, Northern Ireland @rhani.org

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