Free Presbyterian manse benefits from botched RHI scheme

Hebron Free Presbyterian Church stands to get a quarter of a million pounds under the RHI scheme
Hebron Free Presbyterian Church stands to get a quarter of a million pounds under the RHI scheme

A Free Presbyterian minister whose church and house are both benefiting from the Renewable Heating Incentive has said they “did not enter the scheme to make money”.

Hebron Free Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, stands to make £250,000 over the next two decades under the controversial energy initiative.

It has emerged that the manse is also being heated as part of the botched scheme.

There is no suggestion the church acted improperly or is among the group of claimants who are abusing the government-led initiative.

But Rev David Park, who has been at the helm of the church for 20 years, said he felt they had been “tarred with the same brush” as those who were exploiting the RHI.

He told the News Letter: “We applied for the scheme through a church committee in 2014. It was all done very legitimately; we never entered it to make money.

“In fact, once we learned that there would be excess money coming in, we made the decision to use it for charitable work.”

Rev Park said the church be committing at least £5,000 a year to missionary work, equating to £100,000 over the 20-year lifespan of the RHI.

He added that the decision had been taken two years ago and was not a reaction to the recent furore over the heating scandal.

Regarding the manse benefiting from the RHI, Rev Park explained that the building constitutes church property.

“The church has always paid for the heating at the manse and, as the two buildings are right next to each other, they are heated through the same system,” he added.

One of the church’s elders is DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, who was a DUP minister in the last Executive.

He previously told the News Letter he had no role in the church’s application, adding: “I wasn’t involved in any of it. It was handled by one of the other elders who looks after all of those things.”

The project at the Ballymoney church came to light because the company which installed the wood pellet boiler, Solmatix Renewables, publicised it on its website as a case study.

Solmatix said that the “financial rewards” for the church were £13,500 per year, made up of £1,000 oil savings each year and an annual RHI payment of £12,500.

The renewables company quoted church elder Jonathan McAuley saying: “We recognised that biomass would meet all of our heating requirements for the church and free up around £10,000 a year for us to use in other mission works.”

The RHI scheme sought to encourage businesses to switch to eco-friendly wood burning boilers.

But it paid out more in subsidies than the fuel cost, meaning users could abuse the system to earn more money by burning more fuel.