DUP MP Sammy Wilson has savaged Stormont for a renewable heat scheme scandal which occurred on the watch of two DUP ministers.
Mistakes in the design and operation of the Renewable Heat Incentive – a green energy scheme which subsidised environmentally friendly energy sources – mean that taxpayers will face total bills of £1 billion over the next 20 years.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office has criticised the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) for “serious systematic failings” which led to a chronic overspend.
A whistleblower alleged that large factories with no previous heating had installed three biomass boilers with the intention to run them all year round in order to collect approximately £1.5 million over the next 20 years, and that a farmer who has no need for a biomass boiler is aiming to collect approximately £1 million over the next 20 years for heating an empty shed.
DUP ministers Arlene Foster and then Jonathan Bell were in charge of DETI during the relevant period.
Mr Wilson said that the Audit Office report into the massive overspend on the scheme “should come as a surprise to no one”.
He said: “The obsession which Assembly members had with driving our economy towards greater use of energy from expensive renewable sources instead of using increasingly cheaper fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas was a recipe for wasteful spending.
“In their manic attempts to show how keen they were to save the planet from global warming, many Assembly members competed with each other to display their green credentials.
“It was inevitable that the enthusiasm to make sure that Northern Ireland did not fall behind the rest of the UK in promoting RHIs that mistakes would be made.
“Whether it was planning policy, environmental policy, energy policy or even rating policy there was an insistence that priority be given to renewables. The impacts and the details of policies were never properly scrutinised for fear of being labelled a global warming denier.”
The former Stormont Finance Minister – who did not explicitly mention his DUP colleagues – added: “We see the results. Incentive schemes which distort the energy market, making it cheaper to waste energy than conserve it.”
Mr Wilson said that although most of the policy direction had come from the EU and Westminster, “the fact is that green obsessed Assembly members did little to question the policies or use what little powers they had to slow them down.
“In years to come I have no doubt people looking at the huge subsidies we are now asking consumers to pay for renewable energy across the UK will ask what kind of madness overtook decision makers.”