Farmers to be offered 20 year contracts to grow energy crops

Mr Naughten said the final details are being firmed up ahead of the Budget but they would press ahead with an RHI scheme to encourage industry and businesses to move towards greener tech­nologies.

“It is also important that we don’t repeat some of the mistakes that we have had in other jurisdictions,” said the minister, referring to the costly ‘loophole’ that saw us­ers earn more cash the more fuel they burned in Northern Ireland.

“It is important from the public point of view, from a political point of view that this is a scheme that we can stand over as well,” he stressed with the financial incentives due to be signed off on ahead of the Budget.

“There is even a debate on whether you should change the name of it from RHI because it is a dirty word in some other places.”

However, the minister stressed it was going to set a benchmark to stimulate the industry, with the initial focus on biomass and anaero­bic digestion.

Mr Naughten pointed out that businesses and foreign direct investment were now looking at the country’s ener­gy security in light of Brexit, as well as the climate change advantages with greener technology.

“As a country we are dependent on imports and over 80pc of our imports come through the UK. We are spending about a half a million euro every single hour on high emission fossil fuels — €4.6bn a year.”

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