The full consequences are yet to emerge from last week’s High Court ruling, which quashed the need for a local poultry farmer to repay money under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
Thomas Paul, who runs poultry units near Coleraine, successfully challenged the Department for the Economy (DfE), over sanctions that followed inspections of his RHI-accredited boilers.
The High Court in Belfast quashed the need for him to re-pay over £53,000 in RHI payments and stopped DfE from ending his participation in the scheme.
RHI is administered on behalf of DfE by energy regulator Ofgem and the latest legal challenge centred around the powers that Ofgem had to recoup scheme payments.
Seven similar legal challenges from other RHI participants are understood to be well progressed through the court system and DfE is expected to decide on how it proceeds with these cases by late September.
There are understood to be around 130 cases where RHI participants had sanctions imposed and many of these could now be open to being overturned, given that the court found that Ofgem does not have authority to recoup RHI payments.
Brian Moss from Belfast-based law firm Worthington Solicators is representing most of the RHI participants involved in the ongoing legal challenges and has been contacted by more boiler owners in recent days.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Moss said his advice to RHI participants is to “wait and see” how DfE respond to the current court cases.
“If the Department concedes the other cases in the same way they conceded the Thomas Paul case, then I think it is very likely that they will have to look at other cases beyond the ones which are currently before the court,” he said.
More legal action
However, one concern among RHI participants is that DfE could concede that Ofgem cannot recoup money, but all cases are reviewed and DfE decides instead to recover the payments itself.
If this were to occur, it would almost certainly lead to a renewed set of legal challenges from more RHI participants.
In particular, a long-running dispute has been the rationale for imposing sanctions on RHI claimants, especially where biomass boiler use decreased after RHI tariffs were cut in 2017.
The inspectors argue that it demonstrates that these scheme participants were over-claiming when RHI tariffs were higher than the cost of running the boilers.
However, RHI participants point out that biomass heating became too expensive after tariffs were cut, resulting in boiler use decreasing due to other forms of heating, such as gas, being used instead.