Minister warns of no repeat of North’s ‘cash for ash’ scandal

Renewable Energy Incentive scheme will not make same mistakes, says Denis Naughten

Minister for  Energy and Natural Resources Denis Naughten warned that Brexit made it now essential that Ireland ramp up its production of renewable energy as much of our energy is sourced through the UK.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Denis Naughten warned that Brexit made it now essential that Ireland ramp up its production of renewable energy as much of our energy is sourced through the UK. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A Renewable Energy Incentive scheme to be announced in the Budget will not make the same mistakes as the North’s “cash for ash” scandal, the Minister for Energy Denis Naughten has said.

Mr Naughten admitted the concept of an REI scheme in the Republic was such a “dirty word” that he considered changing the name of it.

The North’s Renewal Heat Incentive scheme is now the subject of a public inquiry with suggestions that it will cost Northern taxpayers as much as €500 million over its lifespan.

The refusal of First Minister Arlene Foster to stand aside as a result of the scandal was the principal reason for the fall of the North’s executive in January this year.

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, Mr Naughten said the public needed to know that any REI scheme in the Republic would not be similarly abused.

In the North, users of the scheme were able to make large profits as they were paid the equivalent of £1.60 for every £1 of fuel burnt. There was no cap on usage.

Mr Naughten explained there will be a cap on the overall budget for the REI scheme in the budget to protect taxpayers and each individual grant will be capped.

Tiered level of payment

In addition, there will be a tiered level of payment which will ensure that the more that is burnt the less will be paid out per kilowatt hour.

The scheme will only apply to energy-efficient buildings. It will not be used, the minister explained, to heat empty sheds as allegedly happened in the North.

Mr Naughten said he will meet with the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to finalise the proposed scheme.

He warned that Brexit made it now essential that Ireland ramp up its production of renewable energy as much of our energy is sourced through the UK.

“What happens if the tap is turned off?” he said.

He suggested the growing of biomass could provide a market for farmers in areas such as the midlands and west of Ireland which had suffered in recent bad summers.

Mr Naughten was speaking at the launch of Bord na Móna’s biomass business. The semi-State organisation intends to source 1.2 million tonnes of biomass a year as part of its goal to completely replace peat by 2030.

Head of Bord na Móna Bioenergy Patrick Madigan said that, at present, the company sources 250,000 tonnes of the 450,000 tonnes of biomass it currently burns in its power stations from abroad.

Bord na Móna is now looking to enter into long-term contracts with farmers to provide biomass.

Mr Madigan added: “We are actively looking to develop indigenous supplies from private forestry and are also encouraging Irish farmers to consider energy crops as a secure income source. Government has been and will be critically important to underpinning development of this domestic supply.”