Northern Ireland

Renewable energy: Minister extends NI subsidy scheme

Wood pellets Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The scheme was set up to encourage homes and businesses to move to renewable energy

A green energy scheme that had been earmarked for closure is to be extended, the Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has said.

Last Friday, he announced his intention to shut down the scheme as soon as possible.

Renewable energy companies had warned that jobs would be at risk and millions of pounds worth of work would be lost if the scheme closed.

On Thursday, the minister said it should remain open until 29 February.

The scheme cannot close without assembly approval and it is to be put to a vote early next week.

If approved, the earliest date the scheme could have been shut down would have been 16 February.

A huge spike in applications and a change in Treasury funding rules means money for it has run out.

Image caption The preferred option for most who applied for subsidies was the installation of wood pellet burners

The Northern Ireland Executive has been left with a £30m overspend to honour promised payments.

However, installation firms have said that if the renewable heat incentive scheme shuts next week they will lose work, be left with hundreds of thousands of pounds of stock and have to lay off staff.

There was a rush of 900 applications last autumn, around the same time that Stormont's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) announced plans to cut the subsidies.

Jonathan Bell said he had "listened carefully" to the concerns about the potential closure of the scheme and that he was proposing it should remain open for a further two weeks.

"My department will be carrying out a comprehensive review and audit, to ensure that the operation of the schemes is in compliance with the scheme requirements and the underpinning legislation," the minister added.

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