Green energy scheme Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation ‘should be scrapped’

A public spending watchdog has said a controversial energy renewable scheme in Northern Ireland that it branded “overly generous” should be axed.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance said news of how the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) scheme operates will leave electricity bill payers in GB “disappointed”.

Households here contribute £31 to the cost of renewables. GB domestic consumers pay a higher amount as a result of having a higher obligation level – up to £80 per household.

The disparity was highlighted in a BBC NI Spotlight programme broadcast on Tuesday which investigated NIRO, which was introduced by First Minister Arlene Foster during her time as Enterprise Minister.

The green energy scheme provided subsidies to encourage renewable power generation but closed to onshore wind in 2016 and other technologies the following year.

Under the scheme, which is not funded from taxation, Renewable Obligation Certificates (Rocs) are issued for each unit of electricity, and are sold to electricity suppliers throughout the UK.

An NI Audit Office (NIAO) report concluded the rate of return from wind turbines was running at over 20% for some, with applicants receiving a payback on their investment within four years.

In October, the NIAO claimed owners of some renewable technologies were being paid overly generous subsidies from electricity bills.

Auditors said the payments to single wind turbines and anaerobic digester plants, under NIRO, were “excessive”.

However, RenewableNI, which represents the green electricity industry here, last month lodged a formal complaint, insisting that the report was not fit for purpose – a claim which is strongly denied by NIAO – and has commissioned an accountancy firm to produce an independent audit and report.

The latest development prompted John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, to urge the scheme, and others like it, to be halted across the board.

“Bill payers will be disappointed to see they’re footing the bill for such a costly investment scheme,” he said.

“Providing extravagant handouts for renewable energy will cost consumers a fortune while allowing investors juicy returns,” he said.

Mr O’Connell added: “If ministers are serious about easing the pressure on people’s living standards, they need to take action and scrap lavish renewable energy subsidies.”

The Department for the Economy failed to respond to a request for comment at the time of going of going to press.

Previously the department has defended NIRO, hailing it as a “success story”, and pointed out that the NI Audit Office has highlighted the achievements of the scheme – including increased renewable electricity consumption from 3% in 2005 to 47% this year.


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