Subsidies for '˜phantom' green energy plants in NI being probed

Claims that some green energy scheme operations in Northern Ireland are abusing the subsidies available are to be examined by the Department of the Economy, it has been revealed.

An anaerobic digester plant
An anaerobic digester plant

Concerns were raised earlier this week after a BBC Radio 4 programme reported the potential abuse of a scheme set up to generate electricity from animal waste using anaerobic digestion (AD).

The File on 4 programme was based around a report from the SourceMaterial investigative journalism website.

The report flagged up concerns that a small number of scheme operators are collecting subsidies for “phantom plants” – and that others were exploiting the system through general non-compliance with the rules.

Incentives had been put in place to encourage the use of slurry and silage to produce methane gas for electricity generation, and there are now almost 90 of the AD operations in Northern Ireland.

The mismanagement of another green energy scheme – the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) with initial estimates of a £500 million overspend – helped bring down the Stormont government in 2016.

However, unlike RHI, the subsidies paid to those operating the anaerobic digesters are raised from a levy on electricity customers and not paid from the public purse.

A Department of the Economy spokesman said: “The department, utility regulator and Ofgem are taking all allegations relating to AD stations very seriously and each allegation is being investigated as part of the ongoing compliance regime for the scheme. All on-site investigations are carried out by independent auditors.”

Ofgem has said it will investigate and added: “If there is evidence of fraud we also contact the police.”