Sudden changes unveiled by the Department for the Economy to the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme have angered many.
The Department issued a statement on its website to announce that Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 was coming into operation with immediate effect
Said the statement: “This follows the decision announced by the European Commission earlier that the amendments to the RHI Scheme are in line with EU state aid rules.
“The Regulations mean that the ‘tiered’ tariff system is being extended, whereby all medium-sized biomass operators will move to a lower fixed tariff, after a set number of operating hours and there will be an overall cap on the number of operating hours for which these beneficiaries can receive support in any given year.”
When the scheme was first set up there were no tariff restrictions, enabling businesses to profit; this latest development is aimed at reducing a projected £490m overspend.
A spokesman for the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland (RHANI) commented:“This is a very confusing notice by the Department and it is unknown which senior civil servant ordered the implementation of the change.
“The Renewable Heat Association understands that the Department has not written to scheme participants but has instead published on a series of websites new rules and regulations regarding the RHI and its tariff structure which are very complex and unclear. Some rules also seem to apply retrospectively which is very concerning and may not be legal.
“We urge all RHI scheme participants to contact the Department officials responsible for the scheme and for implementing the changes to seek written clarification for their individual circumstances.
“RHANI has already had reports of immediate redundancies and winding up of businesses from a number of members due to the financial uncertainty of changes to their tariff. Sectors including agriculture, which traditionally operates on a very low-profit margin are badly affected by the imposition of these changes and it appears that a number of business cannot now service the bank loans that they took out to buy the specialist biomass boilers required for this government promoted incentive scheme.
“RHANI will continue its efforts in the courts and more broadly as the voice of Renewable Heat users throughout Northern Ireland.”
One Fermanagh man, who runs a timber business, told the Belfast Telegraph that he has been forced to take the tough decision to lay off six staff. Another 18 employees are working a four-day week on reduced hours and up to nine may be made redundant.
“We invested £1.2m in the Renewable Heat Incentive and that is all borrowed money, commitments we can’t walk away from,” he told the newspaper. “If Stormont’s original intention was to give business a boost through the scheme, they are now crippling us and some will end up bankrupt.