Cut in RHI tar­iffs fol­low­ing furore over botched scheme com­pletely le­gal, court told

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY ALAN ERWIN

STOR­MONT’S in­tro­duc­tion of re­duced pay­ments for the Re­new­able Heat In­cen­tive scheme was “nowhere near” any abuse of power, the High Court has heard.

A judge was told pri­mary leg­is­la­tion pro­vided le­gal author­ity for the move to re­duce tar­iffs in the botched green en­ergy ini­tia­tive.

Coun­sel rep­re­sent­ing the Depart­ment for the Econ­omy also ar­gued that even if the cost-cut­ting reg­u­la­tions are quashed, boiler own­ers could not re­vert to the higher rates.

With pay­ment mech­a­nisms un­der the old scheme now re­pealed, other po­ten­tial reme­dies would have to be ex­plored.

Judg­ment was re­served in ac­tion mounted by more than 500 mem­bers of the Re­new­able Heat As­so­ci­a­tion NI Ltd.

They are seek­ing to ju­di­cially re­view the depart­ment for cut­ting pay­ments as­sured un­der the orig­i­nal 2012 reg­u­la­tions. Ac­cord­ing to their case, it was an un­law­ful step against op­er­a­tors with a 20-year guar­an­teed rate of re­turn on their in­vest­ments.

But Tony McGleenan QC, for the depart­ment, in­sisted ac­tion was taken for le­git­i­mate rea­sons to pro­tect the pub­lic purse, cor- rect flaws in the scheme and to com­ply with EU rules on State aid.

“That’s nowhere near an abuse of power,” he said.

Set up to en­cour­age busi­nesses and other non-do­mes­tic users to move to re­new­able heat­ing sys­tems, the scheme was plunged into con­tro­versy af­ter the po­ten­tial cost to tax­pay­ers emerged.

With op­er­a­tors le­git­i­mately able to earn more cash the more fuel they burned, the bill has been pro­jected at up to £490 mil­lion — a fig­ure dis­puted by the as­so­ci­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to its lawyers, the over­spend could end up be­ing as low as £60m.

How­ever, the depart­ment re- sponded by claim­ing the fig­ure could ac­tu­ally have reached £700m with­out the new cost con­trols.

The de­ba­cle sur­round­ing the ini­tia­tive led to the col­lapse of Stor­mont’s power-shar­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the es­tab­lish­ment of a pub­lic in­quiry.

Ear­lier this year for­mer Econ­omy Min­is­ter Si­mon Hamilton set out re­vised 2017 RHI reg­u­la­tions at the cen­tre of the le­gal chal­lenge.

Dur­ing his sub­mis­sions, Mr McGleenan stressed the high hur­dle fac­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion in per­suad­ing the court to quash leg­is­la­tion passed by the As­sem­bly.

He also con­tended that the 2011 En­ergy Act pro­vided the power to change the reg­u­la­tions.

Gerald Simp­son QC, for the as­so­ci­a­tion, coun­tered by set­ting out the con­tents of Govern­ment doc­u­ments and cor­re­spon­dence he said con­tained “clear, un­equiv­o­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions” that the orig­i­nal rate would be paid for 20 years.

“The depart­ment says that at all times the 2011 En­ergy Act al­lows us to take away that tar­iff retroac­tively,” he told the court.

“If that was the be­lief then the rep­re­sen­ta­tions I have iden­ti­fied were at the very least fun­da­men­tally mis­lead­ing, and if they knew they had the right to take that away retroac­tively then they were more than fun­da­men­tally mis­lead­ing.”

Mr Simp­son also sub­mit­ted that it was a “fi­nite” num­ber of boiler own­ers on the 2012 reg­u­la­tions, likely to de­crease through wear and tear on in­stal­la­tions.

Re­fer­ring to any sus­pi­cions of po­ten­tial abuse of the pay­ment ar­range­ments, he chal­lenged the depart­ment to pro­duce de­tails so any­one in­volved can be re­moved from the scheme.

“There’s no se­ri­ous ev­i­dence of mis­use; if there was, some­thing could have been done about it.”

Mr Jus­tice Colton said he would de­liver judg­ment as soon as pos­si­ble.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.