Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: Boiler owners opposed to being publicly named

Wood pellets Image copyright tchara
Image caption The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is approximately £490m over budget

Biomass boiler owners have formed a group to deal directly with government officials proposing changes to the controversial RHI scheme.

It is believed they will oppose plans to publicly name recipients and seek legal advice on any contract changes.

The group, who met on Wednesday, are against publication of their details.

This is due to the negative publicity some businesses received after details of their biomass installations were made public.

Image caption Officials from Simon Hamilton's department have written to boiler owners giving them until next Tuesday to agree to publication of their names

The Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton, has plans which, he claims, could reduce a potential scheme overspend of hundreds of millions to "effectively zero".

His officials have already written to boiler owners giving them until next Tuesday to agree to the publication of their names.

In the letter, recipients were told the department was "minded to publish the names" in the "interests of openness and transparency".

It is understood the group will represent only those who have signed up to the scheme in good faith and are operating it legitimately.

They are writing to the Department of the Economy seeking a meeting ahead of any announcement of changes to the scheme.

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) chief executive, Wesley Aston, said it was advising members who availed of the scheme not to give permission for their names to be disclosed, unless audits have been carried out of their installation.

"Without the audit, farmers risk being criticised, without being able to show they acted within the terms of the scheme," he said.

"It is up to individuals to decide whether they give permission to be named - but we fear this is not about transparency but efforts to shift the focus from those who failed to safeguard the taxpayer."

The UFU said the "vast majority" of people using the scheme were doing so "legitimately".

The RHI scheme was flawed from the start offering overgenerous subsidies over 20 years.

A spike in applications in Autumn 2015 led to an over commitment that could cost the Northern Ireland taxpayers up to £490m over 20 years.

The handling of the scandal has become a major political row that threatens to bring down Stormont.

Sinn Féin has demanded that Mrs Foster stand aside pending an investigation.

Mrs Foster has said she will not be standing down.

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