RHI: Poultry farmer begins legal challenge to ‘ruinous’ tariff reduction

A poultry farmer mounting a new legal challenge over plans to slash RHI payments has claimed the reductions would be “ruinous”.

Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 3:06 pm
Tom Forgrave's challenge was adjourned to next month

Tom Forgrave is seeking to judicially review Secretary of State Karen Bradley’s decision to fast-track legislation cutting tariff rates for the botched green energy scheme.

Proceedings were adjourned at the High Court because the relevant bill going through Westminster has not yet become law.

Gerald Simpson QC, representing Mr Forgrave, said: “We recognise that the application is premature.”

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Relisting the case for hearing next month, Mr Justice McCloskey acknowledged the speed surrounding the proposed legislative amendments.

“This measure is proceeding through the Houses of Parliament a what might be described as a rate of knots.”

Under the new plans annual payments could be cut from £13,000 to £2,000.

But boiler owners who signed up the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme claim it is a further unlawful step against operators with a 20-year guaranteed rate of return on their investments.

Set up to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move to green energy systems, the initiative was plunged into controversy after the potential cost to taxpayers emerged.

It led to the collapse of Stormont’s power-sharing administration, and the establishment of an ongoing public inquiry chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin.

Members of the Renewable Heat Association NI Ltd are due to appeal a previous ruling that the Department of the Economy was legally entitled to impose an earlier cut on tariff rates.

Now Mr Forgrave has commenced separate judicial review proceedings over the latest proposed reduction.

Following the adjournment the Ballymoney-based farmer stressed the case has been taken on behalf of other affected boiler owners.

“The tariff changes are ruinous,” he said outside court.

“We were given a cast-iron guarantee the tariffs had been grandfathered, and we feel very badly let down by the department.”

Mr Forgrave, who has 10 boilers, estimated that more than 1,000 other operators will face financial pain.

“This is going to put us on the lowest rate in the entire EU – the pendulum has swung so far the other way that it’s disproportionate.”