Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme: Closure

Oral Answers to Questions — Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Alastair Patterson Alastair Patterson UUP 3:15 pm, 9th February 2016

T4. Mr Patterson asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the closure of the renewable heat incentive scheme will take effect, considering that legislation passed on 18 November 2015 clearly stated to the sector a closure on 31 March 2016. (AQT 3474/11-16)

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I welcome the Member to the House. I said that there was a huge increase in the demand for the renewable heat incentive scheme at the end of last year. That has given not just my Department but Northern Ireland a huge budgetary pressure. As the Member should know, the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to limit the amount of money that was paid to Northern Ireland out of the UK pot for renewable heat. That is why I signalled my intention last week to ease that financial pressure, which could amount to over £27 million.

Photo of Alastair Patterson Alastair Patterson UUP

I welcome the comments of the Minister, and his welcome to the House.

The Minister announced the sudden closure of the renewable heat initiative last Friday, after 6.00 pm, in a press release. In his press release, he mentioned that around 6% of Northern Ireland's heating needs are now provided through renewable technologies. The Executive's Programme for Government renewable heat target is 10% by 2020. Has the Minister abandoned that target? Does he still have an incentive policy for renewables? A lot of firms have invested money into this and need answers from the Minister.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

The reality is that we have exceeded the current target. I now want to listen specifically to the industry. I have been listening to individuals who are currently installing the renewable heat boilers. I think it is important that we, as politicians and everyone in this House, listen and do all that we can to help as many people as possible. I will reflect on what is being said to me, and I will examine ways in which I can help those who have been affected by my decision from last week. I also want to say that, inevitably, there will be an investigation into why we have found ourselves in this position. I have, as a matter of urgency, asked my own officials to ensure that the scheme is running to the letter and spirit of the law. I will be keeping a very close eye on that.

I think the Member also needs to understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has limited the amount of money being paid to Northern Ireland out of the UK pot as regards renewable heat, and that puts challenges on every Member of this House.