Tyrone farmer revealed as biggest claimant under North's infamous RHI scheme

Stock image
Stock image

Sean O'Driscoll

A businessman who runs a chicken farm and tanning salon from the same address has emerged as the largest recipient in the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Paul Hobson's poultry farm in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, has a record 13 RHI-funded wood pellet boilers. The details are included in the list of RHI grant recipients published by the Department for the Economy yesterday.

It follows months of legal wrangling between the department and an organisation representing RHI recipients, which unsuccessfully fought to have the company names remain private.

The Department for the Economy figures show that Mr Hobson has received £659,540 from his 13 boilers up to February 28, 2017, making him the largest recipient of RHI grants and the one with the largest number of boilers.

His farm is on target to receive a combined total of over £2.5m in grants throughout the duration of the green energy scheme.

Mr Hobson's boilers were installed in 2013 and 2014, before the big rush to sign up in 2015.

The Department of Agriculture used his farm as a successful example to other farmers interested in RHI.

One official included a photograph of Mr Hobson's boilers in an article he wrote encouraging farmers to attend a department workshop about RHI benefits.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

The Belfast Telegraph previously revealed that Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader, was Agriculture Minister from the scheme's inception in 2011 to its abrupt closure in 2016, and that her department organised 58 such workshops in which RHI was promoted.

Mr Hobson's boilers were installed with separate heating pipes to maximise profits from RHI, according to the company that installed them.

Alternative Heat, a major Northern Ireland wood pellet installer, uses Mr Hobson's 10,500sq ft indoor chicken farm as a case study on its website.

It said that it connected two boilers into "two individual heat meters and heating lines, allowing the client to apply for the Renewable Heat Incentive for the two separate heating systems".

Under RHI rules, grants can be maximised by running separate heating lines for each boiler.

The company also avoided having to install heat meter reports, which some RHI applicants have had to furnish to scheme supervisors.

"The installations have been RHI accredited and deemed as simple installations, therefore independent heat meter reports were not required," Alternative Heat states on its website.

It said that it installed three Herz 99kW Firematic and six 60kW Pelletstar biomass boilers. Four more boilers were later installed.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Alternative Heat or Mr Hobson, who were operating within the permitted rules of RHI.

Mr Hobson also runs Easy Tan Ltd, a tanning company, from the same address at Mullybrannon Road.

However, that company is not listed in the Department for the Economy's list.

The department said that some businesses have been temporarily omitted from yesterday's list because it wants to ensure that it does not identify individual homes of recipients.

Mr Hobson and Alternative Heat have not yet replied to a request for comment.

The Times previously revealed that the 145 top burning boilers in the RHI scheme will generate grants of more than £1m throughout the 20-year lifetime of the programme.

The 'cash for ash' scheme based payments on the volume of pellets burned, which incentivised users to keep their boilers going for as long as possible.

Most of the applicants, all of whom have signed 20-year contracts, are set to receive £1.60 from Stormont for every £1 worth of wood pellets they burn.

It is likely to cost the taxpayer almost £500m.

The boilers scandal contributed significantly to the collapse of Stormont.

Belfast Telegraph

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App