I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 36 and 48 together.
Rising energy costs are a major concern for all sectors of the economy and consumers, but clearly they have a particular impact on vulnerable members of society.
My Department is setting up a new working group with the Departments of Finance, Social and Family Affairs and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the CER, Sustainable Energy Ireland and key energy suppliers, to ensure a fully cohesive approach to addressing the energy efficiency and affordability challenges for vulnerable people. In an era of high global fuel prices, fuel poverty is a major concern for Ireland and for all Member States of the European Union.
The Government is committed to increasing the energy generated from renewable resources and so reduce the impact of rising fossil fuel prices. We have set ourselves ambitious targets of generating 15% of our electricity needs from renewable sources by 2010 and 33% by 2020. I am confident that we will achieve those targets.
Householders can individually reduce their dependence on oil or gas for their heating needs by investing in renewable heating technology such as solar panels, wood pellet boilers and heat pumps. The Greener Homes Scheme provides grants to householders to assist with this investment.
It is clear that significant savings are achievable in both the residential and business sectors through greater energy efficiency. Energy efficiency savings can be achieved at no cost through behavioural change, while investments in energy efficiency improvements such as insulation can be quickly recovered through reduced energy use and lower bills.
My Department's Power of One Street initiative has clearly demonstrated that householders can achieve major savings on their energy bills by simply changing how they use energy. Some of the households participating in the Power of One Street initiative both this year and last year saved in excess of 30% of their heating costs by becoming more energy efficient.
One of the root causes of fuel poverty is the legacy of older housing with poor energy efficiency standards. Sustainable Energy Ireland's (SEI) Low Income Housing Programme has as its main focus, the Warmer Homes Scheme, which provides attic insulation, draught proofing, lagging jackets, energy efficient lighting, cavity wall insulation and energy advice at little or no cost to eligible households. These measures can significantly reduce the amount of energy required to heat and light the home. I have doubled the allocations for the Low Income Housing Programme to €5 million in 2008 and this will enable SEI to fund such energy upgrades for 5,000 vulnerable households this year.
I launched the pilot Home Energy Saving Scheme in April which is incentivising investment in energy efficiency by householders. SEI has estimated that those upgrading the energy efficiency of their homes with the support of this scheme could expect to save up to €500 per year on their energy bills.
I have asked my Department to examine the feasibility of placing an energy efficiency obligation on electricity and gas supply companies in consultation with all stakeholders. Such mechanisms can be a very cost effective way to improve energy efficiency in both the residential and commercial sectors and are already in place in other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland.
My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government provides supports for those in Local Authority rented dwellings through the Central Heating Scheme. This scheme provides funding to Local Authorities for works including installation of central heating, attic insulation to Building Regulations standards, draught-proofing to existing windows and external doors, and the lagging of exposed pipework and hot water storage cylinders. Some €26 million has been allocated to the scheme in 2008 and it is estimated that about 5,000 Local Authority households will benefit.
The Housing Aid for Older People Scheme provides targeted support of up to 100% of cost to improve conditions in the existing housing of older people. The works which are grant aided under the Scheme include structural repairs or improvements, re-wiring, the provision of water, sanitary services, heating, repairs to or replacement of windows, provision of central heating and associated insulation works.
In addition to these grant supports for structural improvements, the Government is also conscious of the need to directly protect vulnerable households. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs provides a range of supplements and allowances, including the Electricity/Gas Allowance and the National Fuel Allowance, to assist those most in need with their heating costs. Department of Social and Family Affairs estimate that expenditure on these packages will be in the region of €170 million in 2008.
CER has also been given a role in protecting vulnerable customers in the energy markets. Under the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2005, CER was tasked with ensuring that there are adequate safeguards to protect vulnerable customers, including measures to help customers avoid disconnection. CER has set out guidelines for the protection of household electricity and natural gas customers, particularly the elderly, customers relying on life support equipment, and those with disabilities.