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Augher farmerís £10,000 RHI bill.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Augher farmerís £10,000 RHI bill. thumbnailA housing for the bio-mass burners on Colin Watt's farm.

AN AUGHER farmer has hit out at the the "false promises" he received from the Executive and Stormont Departments about the RHI (Renewable Heat incentive) scheme.

Colin Watt installed the boilers at his poultry farm, Mountainview Farm Ltd, three and a half years ago on the back of promises and advice from civil servants and elected re presentatives.

In order to install the boilers, Colin had to acquire a loan from the bank for £380,000.

Using the figures originally promised to Colin by the scheme, the loan made economic sense and the bank was happy to lend him the money. Now however, with a new pricing structure in place, Colin doubts if he will be able to meet his financial commitment if he is to keep using the RHI boilers.

Previously Colin heated his chicken sheds with gas boilers but was encouraged to switch away from it for a more affordable renewable heat scheme.

However, at present Colin is paying £4,000 to service the loan, £11,000 on fuel and a further £1,500 on servicing and running the boilers, roughly £10,000 more than he would have been paying had he stayed with gas boilers.

"I was given promises that this was the way to go, " said Colin. "Now we feel like we have been conned, we have been fed false promises.

Before this, we all had viable businesses now placed in jepordy through the actions of politicans and civil servants who orchastrated this scheme.

"While the scheme was running on the original tariff, it just kept things running. It certainly wasn't a 'cash-for-ash' scheme on this farm." Colin, who said that profits from his business now have to be offset against his biomass costs, claims the new tariff doesn't stack up and had he been advised of this tariff scheme, he would not have touched biomass boilers.

"With the new tariffs the whole thing doesn't stack up," said Colin.

"We were advised to do it and help Northern Ireland meet its emission targets. Now it just feels like we have been conned and are being made to pay for someone else's mistakes. It feels to me like a breach of contract.

The civil servants seem keen to pass the buck and the MLAs certainly are not paying for it. It is us the farmers who are left to pay." "In England they are still getting their Renewable Heat Incentive payments as originally promised and we, the farmers over here, have to try and compete with them. We are paid by the same processors and they pay a set rate that hasn't been adjusted to deal with the tariff change.

"Our industry here is in danger of stagnating and that won't do much for employment here." "Chicks need the heat 24/7. We have day old chicks and if they don't get heat, they will die."

Not only is Colin having to adjust to the new financial pressures bestowed upon him as a result of the change to the RHI scheme, he is also wary that there could be an imminent price rise on wood pellets.

"There is talk the pellets are getting scarce in England," said Colin.

"If this is true the price of the pellets will only increase. I've heard suggestions they could rise by as much as £50 a tonne and when you are using 72 tonne a month, that is a £3,500 increase in expenditure per month.

"The whole thing is fast becoming a never ending nightmare, both financially and emotionally." Meanwhile, senior figures from Northern Ireland's dominant poultry producer; Moy Park, appear to have suggested to senior Stormont figures that they audit those businesses running their boilers at a level which includes businesses who supply the company with chickens.

The suggestion was by a senior figure at Moy Park in a meeting with senior officials from the Department of Finance at the height of the scandal.

A freedom of information request has revealed that in the presentation Moy Park gave to the Department, the company suggested a trigger point in relation to fraud.

Under a heading titled 'inappropriate usage' the presentation read: "Fraud-trigger point eg. greater than 50 per cent hours running PA [per annum]". Several of the handwritten notes refer either to the 400,000kwth - about 50 per cent of the maximum annual output of a 99kwth boiler - and another, written eleswhere in the presentation, says that 50 per cent "seems reasonable".

This statement, which appears to suggest that those running their boilers for more than 50 per cent of the use in a year or claiming for more than 50 per cent of the heat which the boiler could produce in a year could be audited for fraud, is striking as it appears the firm is recommending its own suppliers be audited.

A spokesperson for Moy Park said that the company did not want to comment on the issue due to the ongoing public inquiry.

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