Northern Ireland

Renewable Heat Incentive scheme: No minutes of meetings on energy 'scandal'

Renewable energy Image copyright TCHARA
Image caption Deputy chair of the economic committee, Steve Aitken, said the budget had not been properly managed.

No minutes were kept of key meetings between government officials and the regulators of a botched green energy scheme, the assembly has heard.

The Renewable Heat Incentive is likely to cost Northern Ireland taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Failure to regulate it was described on Wednesday as "one of the biggest scandals" politicians had encountered since devolution.

The scheme was supposed to encourage firms to switch from using oil and gas.

They were encouraged to use renewable biomass boilers burning woodchip instead, but an overgenerous subsidy payment meant businesses piled in.

With 20 years of guaranteed payments and the bulk of the money to be paid out of the Stormont budget, it has left taxpayers with a huge bill.

Responsibility for overseeing the scheme was split between the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and officials from Ofgem E-Serve.

The latter organisation administers government green energy schemes across the UK.

Senior members of Ofgem E-Serve appeared before the assembly's Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.

They revealed there were no minutes taken of formal meetings between themselves and departmental officials between August 2014 and November the following year.

Minutes only began to be taken when there was a huge spike in applications ahead of a planned change in the tariff, as firms rushed to get in on the more lucrative terms.

Chris Poulton of Ofgem E-Serve said it had "flagged up" the lack of cost controls in the scheme, but the department had decided not to introduce them.

An initial slow uptake in early years was followed by a huge spike in applications in Autumn 2015.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said it was clear both the department and regulator had been "asleep at the wheel".

"We can hardly afford to fund the health service, and now we're having to fork out for this," he said.

More on this story