Farmers’ union alarm over RHI tariff freeze

Wesley Aston said RHI users should not carry Stormont's financial burden
Wesley Aston said RHI users should not carry Stormont's financial burden

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said the Department for the Economy’s intention to seek an extension to the current, temporary RHI regulations is alarming.

While welcoming confirmation that non-domestic RHI installation audits will begin this month, the UFU said it was extremely concerned that tariffs could remain capped at the lower rate set earlier this year until at least 2019.

UFU chief executive Wesley Aston said: “Back in June we made clear of the need to prioritise the audits so that those using the scheme legitimately could be cleared of any wrongdoing. We want to see the audits carried out in a quick and timely manner.

“The vast majority of people using the scheme have operated in line with RHI regulations and they want to see a fair solution found.”

Mr Aston said the department’s latest announcement of their intention to extend temporary legislation beyond March 31 2019 is concerning.

“From the outset it was made clear that the temporary capping of tariffs was to allow for a longer term solution to be found and it is unfair to expect RHI legitimate recipients to suffer financially,” he warned.

“These people have made investments in a long-term programme backed by government and they should not have to carry the financial burden while we wait on ministers to be appointed and the formation of an Executive.”

The UFU has written to Dr Andrew McCormick, the department’s permanent secretary, to seek clarity on the temporary legislation that is currently in place.

The DfE said: “The 2017 regulations introduced capping and tiering for small and medium sized biomass boilers accredited before November 2015. This brought the compensation to scheme participants closer into line with the original intention of the scheme which is to provide them with a target 12% return on their capital investment and compensation for other additional costs to support the switch away from fossil fuels.

“It also brought forecast scheme expenditure back into line with the budget provided by the UK government.

“The 2017 regulations were never intended to settle the long-term tariff arrangement for the boilers in question but were intended as a temporary measure to allow long-term arrangements to be designed and introduced.”

The 2017 regulations are currently subject to legal challenge with the court hearing due in October.