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Summary

  1. Design of botched scheme outlined to Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry
  2. Marcus Porter, legal adviser to scheme administrator Ofgem, gives evidence
  3. Inquiry set up after public concern over scheme's huge projected overspend
  4. Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Patrick Coghlin chairing inquiry at Stormont
  5. Public evidence sessions expected to last until well into 2018

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

That's all for now...

That was one of the less revelatory days, but Mr Porter will have to return at a later date for a few more questions about his dealings with DETI.

The RHI Inquiry
Pacemaker

That's it for this week at the RHI Inquir,y and it's not sitting next week but will resume on Wednesday 24 January.

Until then, it's goodbye from us!

'No likelihood of DETI shifting from position'

Asked if he felt he should have continued emphasising the risk DETI was taking by proceeding with its RHI scheme without crucial amendments, Mr Porter says he'd have been "amazed" if it had made any difference.

A man banging his head on a wall
Getty Images

He says if someone is not taking your point, there comes a point when you "don't knock your head against a brick wall" any more.

"[DETI] had made up their minds... and it didn't seem there was any likelihood of them shifting from that position," he adds.

'DETI didn't want to discuss Ofgem's concerns'

Mr Aiken puts it to Mr Porter that DETI didn't really want to discuss the details around the issues that he was raising at the June 2012 meeting.

Long shot of the Senate chamber
RHI Inquiry

The witness says there were a number of issues to discuss "and as far as that particular one was concerned they had given their answer - there would have been no point in discussing the details".

Mr Porter confirms his impression that it was DETI's Joanne McCutcheon who was making this point.

'We hammered home concerns about DETI's scheme plan'

Mr Porter took issue with the minutes of the meeting between DETI and Ofgem in June 2012, believing that they were "softened" and were not an accurate record of the concerns that he expressed.

He submitted an amendment to the minutes to a colleague, and in an email attaching them he said it was "necessary that all the most important points raised are reflected".

A meeting room
Getty Images

In that email, he added that it was "important that there's an official record that [in] our first meeting with DETI we hammered home the fact that we had significant concerns regarding the course they are proposing to adopt".

But his changes were not made in the final minutes, and while they summed up the points that were made they did not "convey the tone, the sense of urgency" that he was trying to get across.

'Scheme can't be changed as Foster wants it opened'

Minutes of the meeting between DETI and Ofgem in June 2012 record that the administrators again advised that the department should hold off on opening the RHI scheme until it had made the same changes as were being added to the GB initiative.

It said there would be "risks" with the scheme without the amendments.

A biomass boiler
Getty Images

But the minutes say that DETI was "clear that they have a commitment with their minister" to open the scheme by the end of September and "this could not be put back".

It was felt that to hold off would "put financial arrangements at risk".

'Did all I could to raise cost controls concerns'

Mr Porter's comments, including references to interim cost controls, were sent to DETI's Joanne McCutcheon and Peter Huchinson ahead of a meeting on 26 June 2012.

Mr Porter
RHI Inquiry

Immediately after the meeting, Ofgem's Luis Castro emailed a colleague expressing concern that DETI did not want to wait for the amended GB regulations, and saying that he agreed with Mr Porter that GEMA should be informed.

Mr Porter confirms that he did not know if the concerns had been raised at a subsequent meeting of Ofgem's management committee, but he felt he had done all he could to raise the issue.

'DETI may be happy with risks but we shouldn't be'

In an email to Ofgem in June 2012, DETI's Peter Hutchinson submitted the draft regulations for the RHI scheme.

He acknowledged that DECC was intending to make amendments to the GB scheme but he said it was DETI preference "to closely follow their existing [GB] regulations and then make necessary amendments in the future".

A man working on a computer
Getty Images

It was forwarded on to Mr Porter by his boss at Ofgem, and he flagged up his earlier warning that GEMA should consider deferring any decision to enter into the work with DETI until the amendments had been made to the scheme.

"DETI may be perfectly happy, avoidably, to take on unnecessary legal risks, but [GEMA] surely doesn't have to follow suit," he pointed out.

Mr Porter tells the inquiry that he was trying to "maximise the chances" that the issue might come before GEMA's board.

'When was DETI advised to delay RHI?'

Sir Patrick intervenes
RHI Inquiry

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin wants to know when DETI was advised to wait until the amendments to the GB RHI scheme regulations were in place, and when it replied to Ofgem.

"I think it's also important that we should learn why it has taken Ofgem so long from Mr Porter's first advice that they should be told about this," he says.

'Legal advice removed from report to board members'

Ofgem reviewed DETI's plan for the RHI scheme in spring 2012 and Mr Porter's legal view was that it should not be opened until it was changed to include the amendments that were made to the GB initiative.

Mr Porter suggested that consideration should be given to forcing DETI to implement the amendments and a request was made for a decision to be made on the matter by the board of Ofgem's governing body, the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (GEMA).

A document that reads: Strictly confidential
Getty Images

But his advice was removed from a report provided to GEMA board members when they were considering the scheme.

Mr Porter says he didn't realise that had happened, and tells the inquiry that had he known he "would certainly have asked why".

'Email trail a total mess'

Mr Aiken identifies two separate issues that Ofgem thought DETI should address regarding its proposal to "mirror" the GB RHI scheme's regulations.

Changes were being made to the GB regulations to deal with problems that had arisen, and Ofgem thought DETI should address:

  • Fixing the problems in the original GB regulations
  • Including the interim cost controls being introduced in GB
Mr Aiken makes a point
RHI Inquiry

Mr Aiken introduces a series of emails between Ofgem's Keith Avis and Joanne McCutcheon of DETI.

They illustrate the difficulties of following an email trail five years later.

"This may be a handy way to do business but for someone coming afterwards trying to work out who did what and when, it's a total mess," he says.

'Taking easy course now will lead to problems later'

DETI's intention for its RHI scheme was to mirror the similar initiative in Great Britain, which was being run by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

But it also decided not to include some crucial amendments that DECC was making to the GB scheme, including the addition of cost controls, with a view to putting them in place at a later date.

In an internal email to Ofgem colleagues, Mr Porter questioned whether DETI's plan would be a "sensible use of resources".

An email inbox
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If DETI went ahead with its plan, it would be "knowingly reproducing legislation in relation to which there is considerable scope for improvement", he said.

That would lead to the same "knotty legal issues" that arose in the regulations for the GB scheme would arise in the Northern Ireland initiative.

Mr Porter's view was that "taking the easy course now may lead to problems later".

'Relationship between us and DETI deteriorated'

There was "some deterioration" in the relationship between DETI and Ofgem at about the time the RHI scheme was opened in autumn 2012, says Mr Porter.

He tells Mr Aiken (below) that it's fair to say there was a constant rush to process material for DETI, and refers to an email in which he commented "in fairly forthright terms" that he had had to "hurtle through" producing the guidance document for scheme applicants.

Joseph Aiken
RHI Inquiry

Mr Porter says there was a "perception" at Ofgem that it had given its advice to DETI "and there was really nothing more to say unless something new arose".

But in spite of that DETI was making "repeated requests" for advice on matters that Ofgem had "already given a view on", he adds.

Mr Porter says it's too strong to say that the relationship was "dysfunctional" but adds that there was a lot to be done on the RHI scheme in a short space of time and there was a "risk" that things could go wrong.

Legal adviser had three key roles

Mr Porter worked on the RHI scheme as the legal adviser for Ofgem E-Serve from April 2012 until March the next year.

Marcus Porter
RHI Inquiry

There were three key areas that he was involved in:

  • Commenting on DETI's draft regulations for the scheme
  • Developing the scheme's administrative arrangements between DETI and Ofgem
  • Developing a guidance document for applicants to the scheme

New witness Marcus Porter sworn in

Marcus Porter takes the oath and the inquiry's junior counsel Joseph Aiken confirms Mr Porter's written evidence, which you can find on the inquiry website here.

Marcus Porter is sworn in
RHI Inquiry

There are 54 pages in his statement, with a further 450 of supplementary material.

It's easy to see how the inquiry has amassed such a mountain of paperwork - approximately one million pages overall.

What happened yesterday at the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News Northern Ireland

Information was "withheld" from a Stormont scrutiny committee by departmental officials bringing in the botched RHI scheme, a senior MLA said.

Patsy McGlone
Press Eye

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone said he had become "angry" as he watched evidence emerge at the public inquiry into the scandal.

He said he now has "multiple concerns" about how the flawed green energy initiative was managed.

What is the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News Northern Ireland

An independent inquiry into the RHI scandal was established in January last year by the then finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

He ordered it in the wake of the huge public concern and what was then a developing political crisis surrounding the scheme.

The RHI Inquiry began in November and Sir Patrick Coghlin (below), a retired Court of Appeal judge, is its chair and has been given full control over how it will operate.

Sir Patrick Coghlin
Pacemaker

It will look at:

  • the design and introduction of the RHI scheme
  • the scheme's initial operation, administration, promotion and supervision
  • the introduction of revised subsidies and a usage cap for new scheme claimants in 2015
  • the scheme's closure

For more information on the RHI Inquiry, you can read our handy Q&A.

RHI scheme - the fallout

Public and political anger erupted when the scale of the overspend emerged.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster (below) had been the minister in charge of the Stormont department that set up the RHI scheme in 2012 and she faced calls in to stand down as Northern Ireland's first minister in December 2016.

Arlene Foster
Reuters

She refused, and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness then quit as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of what had by then become a full-blown political crisis.

By doing so, he brought about the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. Now, a full year on from that, Northern Ireland remains without a devolved administration.

You can find much more detail on the RHI scheme in our need-to-know guide.

RHI scheme - the flaws

The budget of the RHI scheme ran out of control because of critical flaws in the way it was set up.

The most recent estimate for the overspend was set at £700m, if permanent cost controls aren't introduced.

Wood pellets
BBC

Claimants could effectively earn more money the more fuel they burned because the subsidies on offer for renewable fuels were far greater than the cost of the fuels themselves.

The massive overspend bill will have to be picked up by the Northern Ireland taxpayer.

RHI scheme - what was it?

Need a quick refresher on what the RHI scandal is all about? Here goes...

The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme - or RHI for short - came to the fore of the Northern Ireland public's knowledge in autumn 2016... and the fallout from the scandal attached to it is still being felt in the region's politics today.

Burning wood pellets
BBC

The scheme was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2012, as a way of encouraging businesses to switch from using fossil fuels to renewable sources for generating their heat.

Those who signed up were offered financial incentives to buy new heating systems and the fuel to run them.

Good morning

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
AFP

Welcome to a bright-but-slightly-damp Stormont for the final session of the RHI Inquiry for this week.

This morning we'll be hearing from Marcus Porter, a legal adviser to Ofgem E-Serve, the energy regulators who were the administrators of the RHI scheme.