Closure of RHI scheme could put NI agriculture at a serious disadvantage to counterparts, union claims

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has criticised the plan by the Northern Ireland Executive to close the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and said it will put the NI agriculture industry at a competitive disadvantage to its counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales where schemes operate. It will also create an energy border in the Irish Sea and on the island of Ireland.

The NI Executive has now begun a public consultation on the future of the RHI scheme. However it has already stated closure is its ‘preferred option’. The UFU said this could lead boiler owners to assume that the decision has already been planned. Many boiler owners are poultry farmers.

RHI participants will receive compensation if the scheme is closed. The financial package, which is one of four options in the consultation, is set to cost £68m to buy out the 1,200 businesses in the non-domestic scheme. Estimations indicate that the average participant will be eligible for a pay-out of up to £35,000 per boiler.

UFU deputy president David Brown said he had not confidence in the calculations that led to this proposed figure. “Suddenly we have moved from an overspend to a huge underspend. The reduction in 2017 to £12,000 per boiler eliminated the overspend. Yet, in 2019 it was reduced further to £2,000 per boiler creating an underspend in 2019/2020 of over £22m and an anticipated underspend of £26m this year.”

The UFU is also concerned the eight-week consultation period, closing on 9 April, is not long enough to consider and review all responses appropriately.

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