One of the big winners in the RHI scandal is Balcas. They are the largest manufacturer of wood pellets on the island (and indeed in the UK if one source is to be believed). These RHI boilers have to burn something – and for the majority its Balcas fuel. While many have deplored and been outraged that chicken houses and car showrooms are being heated at taxpayers expense, we must also be conscious of the indirect benefit to stove suppliers and to fuel suppliers.
The RHI incentive has been described as getting paid one pound sixty for every one pound of fuel burnt. The total cost (what’s often forgotten is Westminster central Govt costs here) will be in the region of 1.18 billion GBP. This would seem to indicate that over 700 million GBP of pellets will be purchased.
Some of Balcas directors are rumoured to be close to Minister Foster. In an intriguing twist DED NI is listed as a major shareholder in Balcas. DED (Department for Economic Development) was the old name for DETI which has now become DfE (Department for the Economy). SHV – the huge family owned Dutch industrial conglomerate has shareholdings in Balcas too, via their ‘the clean energy company BV’. Calor – the bottled LPG company is also a subsidiary of SHV. SHV has links to fracking, but more because of its wide industrial base – eg pipeline components and valves for high pressure pumps etc.. than any direct involvement in fracking itself, although they did appear to get lots of money from the EU to consult with rural dwellers on energy a while back.
So there are questions to be asked about how DED NI is listed as a shareholder and whether a conflict of interest was declared when they launched this RHI. Does DETI/DfE profit from this shareholding and if so did they ? It could be viewed as a back door method of routing money from Central Government into a Northern Ireland Department.
Given Balcas base is in the First Minister’s constituency we are aware of some ties between Minister Foster and the company board. Unfortunately donor secrecy is still an issue in Northern Ireland politics so there is no donor register to check, whilst its also quite easy to get around rules anyhow. Besides we saw with the ‘fracking’ situation that Mrs Foster wasn’t that keen to declare interests.