Firm got 11 RHI boilers in 19 days

Civil servant  Stuart Wightman was overseeing the running of the RHI scheme in 2015
Civil servant Stuart Wightman was overseeing the running of the RHI scheme in 2015

A company managed to install 11 RHI boilers in 19 days after indirectly getting inside information from Stormont that the lucrative rates were to be cut, it has been revealed.

Dennison Commercials in Ballyclare had the multiple 99kwh boilers installed during the huge spike in applications in autumn 2015 in the final weeks of the uncapped scheme before cost controls were belatedly introduced.

It was directly linked to an email which civil servant Seamus Hughes had sent to a boiler installer, telling him that it was never the intention to allow ‘gaming’ of the system by installing multiple smaller boilers to receive the most lucrative tariff and that it would be outlawed in forthcoming changes to the rules.

Yesterday the RHI Inquiry was told that the information had been openly given to a boiler installer – part of a pattern of civil servants freely giving out commercially sensitive information to firms in the months before cost controls were applied – and spread around the industry, leading to boiler installer FG Renewables warning Dennison that the changes were coming and they needed to act urgently.

It has previously been suggested at the inquiry that the civil servants were naive as to the significance of the information they were giving out.

Barrister Joseph Aiken said that the inquiry had clarified with the company that it had installed the 11 boilers in a 19-day period after it had heard about the scheme from existing claimants in early 2015 and made enquiries about converting to biomass.

The boilers were installed in mid-October - just a month before cost controls. Civil servants believed that it would take months to order and install boilers.

When the list of RHI claimants was published, Dennison was shown to have claimed more than £340,000 in the first 16 months of what is a 20-year scheme. The firm told The Irish News at the time that it had spend £650,000 and taken on considerable risk to put in the expensive biomass heating system.

Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin put it to civil servant Stuart Wightman, who was overseeing the scheme: “So the result of this, unfortunately, is to give a free range to people to produce heating systems contrary to the spirit of the regulations.”

Mr Wightman said: “I take your point, chair. All I can say in our defence is we thought we were doing this for the right reasons but we probably weren’t alive to multiple boilers as being such a big issue.”

Sir Patrick said: “You did know, I think, that the vast majority of boilers were under 100kwh - you knew they were small boilers. So I don’t think there’s any way out there.

“What worries me...is the wording that is used by Mr Hughes, which conveys two things: We know it’s against the spirit, but we’re putting you on notice that if you want to get this system that is against the spirit of the regulations in force [move] asap...I have some difficulty with this. This is very much, it seems to me, insider information being given to one or two commercial areas so that they can maximise the amount of RHI that they obtain.”