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Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action debate -
Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Empowering Local Government and Local Communities to Climate Action: Discussion

Apologies have been received from Deputy Alan Farrell and Senator Higgins. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss governance and delivery of climate action in local authorities and community-led climate action at a local level. We have with us officials from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and representatives from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. Dr. Ciaran Byrne, director of national retrofit at SEAI is very welcome back. The other SEAI representatives are: Mr. Brian O'Mahony, head of the national retrofit and community department, who will join us online; Ms Ruth Buggie, programme manager, sustainable energy communities; Ms Gillian Baker, programme manager, renewable energy support scheme; and Mr. Andy Fox, programme manager, renewable energy support scheme. With us from the Department are Ms Justina Corcoran, principal officer, Mr. Robert Deegan, principal officer and Mr. Rory Somers, assistant principal officer.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice whereby they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in regard to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction. For the witness who is attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, he may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as does a witness who is physically present.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members they may participate in this meeting only if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I ask any member joining us online to confirm, prior to making his or her contribution, that he or she is on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

I invite Dr. Byrne to make his opening statement.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I thank the Chairperson and committee members for the invitation to attend the meeting today to discuss empowering local government and communities to climate action. I am joined by my colleagues, Brian O'Mahony, Ruth Buggie, Gillian Baker and Andy Fox. I thank the committee for affording me the opportunity to present my opening statement.

The SEAI is at the forefront of Ireland’s clean energy transition. We are funded by the Government through the Departments of the Environment, Climate, and Communications and Transport. We have had a major transformative impact on the Irish economy and in the last decade, our actions have underpinned more than €1.2 billion in energy savings. We are catalysts for action through our grant and incentive programmes and capacity-building processes. Citizens, communities, businesses and other stakeholders are at the heart of everything we deliver.

The SEAI’s work supports the delivery of the climate action plan. The climate action plan outlines many actions supporting citizens and communities on their transition to a climate neutral Ireland, such as supporting sustainable energy communities and existing, supporting planned renewable energy schemes and enabling community-led climate action, including on microgeneration and retrofitting. The climate action plan commits to further strengthening the community energy framework, including community-benefit funds and community-ownership provisions such as in the renewable energy support scheme, RESS. It is against this backdrop that I will set out SEAI’s priorities and actions.

The SEAI delivers a number of programmes and initiatives empowering communities and enabling local climate action, including programmes such as the communities energy grant, CEG, sustainable energy communities, SEC, and RESS. In addition, SEAI works with local authorities on a range of other measures, such as supporting their decarbonisation journey, providing energy and data to support local authority climate action plans, supporting community energy officers and working with local authorities on decarbonisation zones.

The CEG programme aims to fund projects that deliver energy savings to a range of homeowners, communities, and private sector organisations. All projects applying for communities funding are required to include a community benefit to the project and to take a cross-sectoral approach. The preference is for larger projects, which deliver significant energy savings, to assist and support smaller community projects which may be less cost effective or require additional investment. Thus far in 2022, the SEAI has received 11 applications to support energy projects with a total value of €74.8 million. The level of grant support requested is €29.5 million. The current call for communities projects remains open for applications.

The SEAI recognises the importance of the citizen in our transition to a low carbon economy. The ongoing convergence of energy technology around the individual and trends towards smaller scale energy generation will give the energy citizen more power to help shape our future. It is essential, therefore, that we prepare society for newer technologies as we move beyond basic energy efficiency. This will see us promote new behaviours and technologies, beyond early adopters, to society as a whole.

The sustainable energy communities programme was set up in 2015 to support communities in the transition to a low carbon society. Communities are provided with a range of supports as they develop along the SEAI’s three-stage journey of learn-plan-do. The learn stage is the SEC network whereby communities are supported via mentoring and through a peer-to-peer network. The plan stage is the development of local energy master plans with 100% financial support from the SEAI and the development of a register of opportunities of projects that best suit the community. The do stage involves actioning what communities can achieve, with support from SEAI programmes, especially the CEG.

The 2019 climate action plan set a target of 500 SEC network members by 2025 and 1,500 by 2030.

The SEC network has 655 communities nationwide, and there are 12 local authority members within it.

On RESS, there is a new range of supports for communities that wish to develop a community electricity-generation project for inclusion in the scheme's auction. These supports include a combination of grants and trusted advisers who guide the projects through the process. The SEAI has developed an excellent online toolkit of supports and information on the key aspects of renewable energy, including wind, solar, planning and grid.

Another aspect of RESS that the SEAI is responsible for is the management of the community benefit fund national register. All RESS projects, both commercial and community, must pay into the fund €2 per MWh of electricity generated. The register has two main objectives: it will act as a transparent information resource for communities to identify where significant sources of funding are available in their localities; and it will have a central registration and reporting system that can be monitored for compliance. Over the lifetime of the RESS, the value of community-benefit funding is estimated to be in the region of €750 million. This is a significant investment in local communities from renewable energy projects.

The SEAI supports local authorities through the development of local authority renewable energy strategies, LARESs. LARESs aim to facilitate the consistency of approach to spatial planning for renewable energy by local and regional planning authorities, guiding the preparation of renewable energy strategies and assisting local authorities in developing robust, co-ordinated and sustainable strategies in accordance with national and EU obligations.

The SEAI public sector programme provides a range of supports to public bodies in the delivery of their 2030 targets. Local authorities are actively engaged in the partnership delivery of a range of pathfinder projects supported by the SEAI.

The SEAI also provides a range of best-practice guides, energy-reporting advice, supports for energy-performance contracting, dedicated energy advisers and energy management training and mentoring to local authorities. In addition, every local authority has been asked to select a pilot decarbonisation zone. The SEAI has worked closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to develop draft management guidelines for these zones. The majority of locations identified as decarbonisation zones are supported by existing SECs in these locations.

We recognise the challenge in empowering Ireland's citizens in the transition to a carbon-free future. We passionately believe the clean energy transition must happen urgently and we stand ready to support all of society on this journey. Our programmes are far reaching and have a proven ability to support and enable climate action. We are ambitious in our strategy to strengthen these platforms of engagement because the challenges ahead require us to work at pace and to deliver ever greater results, learnings and improvements in collaboration with key stakeholders. We thank our colleagues in the Department of Environment, Climate Action and Communications for their continued support and close collaboration. I welcome discussion with the committee, and my colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions members may have for us.

Mr. Robert Deegan

I thank the committee for the invitation to this meeting on local authority- and community-led climate action. I am joined by my colleagues, Ms Justina Corcoran, principal officer in the national climate policy division, and Mr. Rory Somers from the retail energy policy division.

The climate action plan highlights that the transition to climate neutrality will require changes across our society and economy, including the built environment, energy, transport, waste and agriculture. This will require a collaborative effort by all levels of government, communities, businesses and individuals to implement new and ambitious policies, technological innovations, systems and infrastructures. It makes it clear that this will also require changes to individual behaviours, including to how we work, heat our homes, travel, consume goods and services, and manage our waste.

The local authorities have a particularly important role in delivering both climate mitigation and adaptation. This is reflected in the provisions of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, under which local authorities will have to prepare climate action plans. These plans will set out the mitigation and adaptation policies, measures and actions required at local level to drive the achievement of our national climate ambition. The Department is fully committed to ensuring that local authorities are adequately funded to fulfil this important mandate. Significant funding is in place to support both climate mitigation and adaptation at local authority level.

In 2018, the Department entered into a five-year financial commitment of €10 million to establish four climate action regional offices, CAROs. The CAROs co-ordinate actions between local authorities and assist in the development and monitoring of implementation of 31 local climate adaptation strategies, which are currently being delivered. Since 2019, the Department has funded and engaged with the CAROs concerning the implementation of an extensive local authority climate action training programme. More than 13,000 local authority staff received training in 2021 and further courses are in development.

Empowering local communities to address the challenges they face in transitioning to carbon neutrality is central to the delivery of the climate action plan. The National Dialogue for Climate Action, NDCA, is the key mechanism through which climate actions related to public engagement, participation, community action, networking and capacity building are delivered. As well as acting as the co-ordinating structure facilitating societal engagement on climate action, the NDCA will also provide financial supports for local innovations through the climate action fund. In November 2021, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, launched the community climate action programme, CCAP, with funding of €60 million over three years from the climate action fund. The purpose of this funding is to facilitate eligible organisations to collaboratively develop supports, tools, know-how and approaches to assist local communities in taking climate action.

The national retrofit plan was published last year as part of Climate Action Plan 2021. This plan sets out the Government's approach to retrofitting 500,000 homes to a building energy rating of B2 and installing 400,000 heat pumps in existing homes by 2030. An unprecedented €8 billion in national development plan, NDP, funding will be available to support the implementation of the plan through SEAI residential and community retrofit schemes to 2030. A total of €267 million has been allocated for these schemes this year. This is the highest ever allocation for SEAI retrofit schemes and will support almost 27,000 home energy upgrades in communities across the country. Local authority retrofit funding is in addition to this amount and is provided by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Funding of €43 million has been allocated for the community energy grant scheme in 2022. This represents a 43% increase on the 2021 allocation and is the largest ever budget for the scheme. Under the national retrofit plan, SECs will be supported by the Government to continue and expand their roles as activators. The plan includes a target to grow this number to 1,500 by 2030. Members will have got further detail on these initiatives in Dr. Ciaran Byrne's opening statement.

Micro- and small-scale generation will also have a key role to play in helping to achieve overall renewable electricity and climate targets and will allow citizens, businesses, communities and local authorities to take part in the energy transition. The introduction of the clean export guarantee tariff represents the first phase of a comprehensive enabling framework for micro- and small-scale generators in Ireland that allows them to receive payment from their electricity supplier for all excess renewable electricity they export to the grid, reflecting the market value of the electricity.

The Government approved the microgeneration support scheme last December. It provides supports for up to 380 MW of microgeneration by 2030, primarily for self-consumption. Funding of €16 million has been allocated in 2022 for the scheme, which provides capital grants for new domestic solar photovoltaic, PV, installations. Later this year, it will also provide grants for new small non-domestic solar PV installations, including public and local authority installations. Larger non-domestic users, including farms, businesses and public and community buildings, that install new larger installations will be able to avail of a clean export premium tariff that will provide a fixed tariff for 15 years for electricity exported to the grid in conjunction with the clean export guarantee.

The climate action plan also commits to the development of a support scheme for small-scale generators that are above 50 kW but smaller than those supported by the RESS. This is expected to become available by early 2023.

In conclusion, we are working closely with colleagues across government and in local authorities and communities throughout the country to further build momentum and ensure that we meet our 2050 net-zero commitments. My colleagues and I will be happy to address any questions the committee members may have.

I thank Mr. Deegan for his opening statement. I now invite members to ask questions. I propose, as usual, that each member take just two minutes in which to ask questions. Is that agreed? Agreed. I believe there will be time for second and third rounds. If witnesses wish to respond to any question, they should indicate that and they will be facilitated.

The framework outlined is top class and hits all the right issues in terms of the involvement of communities, local authorities and so on. The key question concerns implementation. What, when, where? This is where I get a bit worried. So far, the local authorities have failed to roll out any electric vehicle, EV, chargers. Not a single one has been rolled out. For three years, they have had grants of €5,000 per charger. If they are missing the low-hanging fruit, how good are their plans and the execution?

SECs are great and motivate many people.

But I would like to see what they are leveraging in actual delivery beyond informing people and getting them to an understanding. Does the SEAI have tools to ensure that each delivers a certain amount or sets the ambition to deliver a certain energy saving and that they are not waiting for the various obligated entities to come on with those grants?

Last week, a witness told the committee that technology is shifting fast and that we should focus on the shallow first, that is, the early wins. A company submitted to me that for €350 it can install a heat controller that will save 25% of fuel use in homes but it is not being rolled out on the scale that we ought to see. The witness last week said that we should exploit the lower-hanging fruit. Take smart meters. There are 750,000 installed but they are not being activated to switch people to consume at night. My question for the SEAI and the Department is how we get from the good planning frameworks to delivering the low-hanging fruit and then the deeper change? How is that accountability driven? If local authorities do plans and do nothing about them where does the buck stop?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I think the Deputy will appreciate that our side cannot really speak about local authorities but I can talk about what the SEAI does. The question about EV charges was raised at an earlier hearing of the committee. My understanding, although it is not our particular section, is that we fund the support for chargers that are put in retrospectively. Once they are put in they draw down grant funding from ourselves in the SEAI. We are ready to provide the grant.

Three years on none are installed.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

Absolutely. I am sure the local authorities would probably have a comment on that one. From a SEAI perspective, we fund it.

The Deputy had two questions on the SECs and delivery and implementation and how we generate. I will ask my colleague, Ms Buggie, to come in on that. The second question was on technologies. There was a very interesting question about where you put the retrofit in terms of the low-hanging fruit. I will ask my colleague Mr. O'Mahony to talk about the technical part of that.

Ms Ruth Buggie

Within our sustainable energy communities programme we provide each community with its own mentor. The mentors are assigned in a local authority region to foster that relationship building with a local authority so that they can integrate the different plans at that level. We are spending about €1.5 million a year on that mentoring service. There are 31 around the country. That is real hand-holding for communities to support them to achieve their ambitions.

The development of energy master plans, in which about one third of our communities have participated, helps identify a register of opportunity of projects that then leads them to our community energy grant. All of last year's community energy grant had an SEC participant. It shows that they are participating in it.

We have communities that want to set up their own one-stop shops. The biggest challenge around community ambition is nearly moderating it. Communities have so much ambition so we do our best to help them achieve that. Working through the energy master plan really does help an order of magnitude of which projects make the most sense for the community to pursue. Many of our communities are also pursuing interest in renewable electricity projects too. They work with my colleagues on that too.

Can SEAI say, for instance, 650 SECs delivered X in 2021? Do we have that sort of hard data to drive the thing forward?

Ms Ruth Buggie

The information we capture at a high level is the learn stage, the plan stage or the do stage. Whether they are participating in a project or not or have they participated in it. In the project data we can drill down and find out what the project has delivered in kW savings. How you would attribute that to the various partners in the project is more difficult but their participation, knowledge-transfer, their ability to identify buildings locally that need work and bringing the right partners together is critical to success. Looking at the impact of the projects but also measuring the social impact and the added value of community participation is key. It is an area that we want to work on in the coming year.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

We see heating controllers and smart technology in homes as a very important part in the energy transition. In the last decade in SEAI and through Government schemes, we have supported a lot of heating controllers directly into homes. In the last few years there has been significant growth in this technology. That tells us that we need now to focus into deeper measures. In the last five years in the programmes the Government has supported we have moved the support into the delivery of deeper measures. This is aligned with the energy efficiency obligation scheme with the utilities to try and get people to achieve decarbonisation on a fast pathway to support our targets to 2030. Those technologies do have a place. They were less common perhaps a decade ago but now they are very common and provided. However, now supports are focused on both delivering the smart controllers along with a heat pump and a better rate for the property along with other technologies such as solar PV and microgeneration as well.

There are 1.5 million homes that we are not talking about reaching at all in the retrofit scheme for the next ten years. Is there data to show that a significant majority of those have heat controls in there? The impression I have is that they do not and that the 1.5 million late movers, as it were, have very little in the way of management. What if we got them, the laggards, to be able to cut a quarter of their energy with a relatively cheap piece of technology? Would that not give us the time to do things like watch the technologies, go for the deeper stuff, see if electrification of the whole grid might mean that we put different priorities as we go along? It is much cheaper.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

I do not have the numbers to hand for how many homes have smart controllers in them now or modern heating control systems but we can provide that to the Deputy afterwards. I can say that in the last decade we have seen significant growth in homes putting in modern heating control systems such as those the Deputy mentioned. This technology is being deployed at relatively low cost and is achieving bill savings for home owners and reducing the energy use which is helping to decarbonise the sector. We need to focus our efforts now on delivering the deeper retrofits which achieve much deeper carbon savings and deliver better benefits for the homeowner. That is where the focus of Government policy and all the programmes that SEAI implements has been. I am not saying heating controls are not a good thing to support. They are part of the suite of measures we support.

Only if they are packaged by some very deep measure, as I understand.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

Yes. Previously they were allowed as an individual measure and they still are but we will transition into trying to help people to go to decarbonise on a faster pathway than they have over the last decade.

Mr. Robert Deegan

As an addendum to Mr. O'Mahony's remarks, the national retrofit plan sets out a range of options for different households. We are really trying to make sure that households at different income levels have some level of support and there are options available to them. There is a real focus on getting people to do the deeper measures but as an emergency response to the current energy prices, 80% grants were introduced for attic and cavity insulation which are very low-cost, high-impact measures.

And heating controls?

Mr. Robert Deegan

Heating controls still have a €700 grant as an individual measure. There is support for that as well. The bigger picture is a gradual move towards the deeper measures, as Mr. O'Mahony said, but we are not leaving people out who can only afford to do shallow measures or who are taking a step-by-step approach towards achieving a deeper retrofit. What householders experience as a consequence of shallow measures can encourage them to take the next step and move on to deeper measures. There is a sort of parallel approach but the most important thing is that households of all income levels, including people on social welfare through the warmer homes scheme, have appropriate options available to them for retrofitting their homes.

We invited the witnesses in to talk about community energy but Deputy Bruton has taken the opportunity to raise retrofitting. We dealt with retrofitting in previous sessions and I want to bring the debate back to the agenda. Members are always tempted to ask about retrofitting but I ask them to stick to the agenda.

I thank the witnesses for their submissions. My first question is for the Department and concerns the timeline for the local authority climate action plans. The Act obliges local authorities to prepare them within 12 months of the request of the Minister and the request must be made no later than 18 months after section 16 comes into operation. Progress has been delayed as the legislation took longer to be enacted. When will the Department release the statutory guidelines, which have been outlined in legislation, for the local authority climate action plans?

The witnesses have talked about microgeneration and community energy production. Solar Energy Ireland told us about the impact of restrictions on direct lines for people who could have a solar farm, and possibly sell direct to community buildings or houses. Section 37 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 prohibits direct lines going in. Will the Department change that situation and thus allow communities to produce their own energy and removing the necessity of waiting for a grid connection?

My next question is for the SEAI regarding its three-stage journey of learn-plan-do. Earlier Dr. Byrne said that 655 sustainable energy communities have been established. Can I have a breakdown on how many SECs have reached each stage? I have heard anecdotally that many of them only get through the first two stages of learn and plan. Is that the case? Is there a high level of attrition? Has the attrition rate been analysed and reasons sought to explain why community groups do not continue?

Finally, LED floodlights are very popular in communities and have sparked a conversation on the importance of LED in energy efficiency. Is it true that the SEAI will stop providing grants to community sports groups for LED floodlights?

Ms Justina Corcoran

It is likely that the Minister will issue a direction to the local authorities, probably in November or December of this year. The Act was brought into force in July 2021 so it is likely that one will reach the decline, which is before December of this year, and then there is a year so we should have the local authority plans in place by the end of 2023. There are a couple of reasons for us leaving it that late. We have worked with the local authorities, the EPA, Climate Ireland and the CAROs to devise a set of statutory guidelines. They will cover mitigation or adaptation annexes and set out how the local authority should go about doing this in a coherent and co-ordinated approach. The guidelines have been signed off by the local authorities but we are going through them internally in the Department. Once we have those, the Minister will probably issue them along with the direction. The timeframe gives local authorities a little time because a 12-month period is quite short when one considers all of the different steps they must take to get the plans and, therefore, they can do some work in the background in the lead-up time.

Mr. Rory Somers

Direct lines are not part of the remit of my division so we cannot provide a more comprehensive answer now or after the meeting. A strategy has been developed on direct lines and private wires. We are currently in the process of engaging with the relevant stakeholders on drafting a public consultation, which would take place later this year, on the strategy to move forward with the issue and bring us in line with the requirements of the renewable energy directive.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I thank the Senator for her questions on the SEC strategy of learn-plan-do. I wish to make a general comment about communities because I have spent quite a period of my career working with communities. They are at different stages and, unfortunately, we use a single homogenous definition of "community". As the Senator will well know from working with groups, some of them are way ahead, some are in the middle and some are not so far ahead, which we see in the SEC group.

She said that anecdotally the learn and plan strands of the strategy work well but the last strand seems to fizzle out. That would be the learning across communities generally and it does not matter what programme or who gets to the finish line. We have considered the matter internally and are concerned. Traditionally, we would have passed the committees on the do phase into the CEG programme and we still do a lot of that, as my colleague has outlined. As much as 100% of the CEG projects last year had an SEC linked into them. We are looking at the do phase. We are trying to understand whether we need to do more within that phase and whether another sub-step is required before they go to the CEG programme. My colleague, Ms Buggie, will comment further.

Ms Ruth Buggie

Within the 655 SECs in the learn group, as many as 202 have gone on to the plan stage and of those approximately 80 have gone on to the "do" stage. We have a further 11 that are within the RESS that seek support and a further 75 that have expressed an interest in developing a renewable energy project. Certainly the "do" stage is the most challenging. The bar to enter the network is very low. It is a sharing and learning peer network for communities to find out what other communities are doing and some may never progress. This is very much a way of supporting communities at their own pace. We do not put a timeline on them having to move to another stage and it is self-determined but fully recognise that challenge of the "do" stage. The challenge for us is building a pathway for communities into all SEAI programmes. While the CEG is the most obviously for communities some are interested in, say, the support scheme for renewable heat or the Excellence in Energy Efficiency Design, EXEED, programme. It is finding ways for communities to participate in their own way. There are challenges around how grants are structured and seek co-finance. Up until recently we did not have a multi-annual framework so there is a very tight timeline for them to deliver. Typically, if this is the first time that they have ran a project then it can take longer so it did not fit in that. All of these changes have made it an awful lot easier for communities. We continue to work on programmes and recognise that the challenge for the programme is to get communities doing. They want to and we want them to so it is just how we can help them more.

The application process for the CEG consists of a 47-page set of guidelines and 19 other documents. That situation would be the first port of call in helping communities come on board. How many of the CEGs are run by energy professionals and not by community groups?

Ms Ruth Buggie

The majority would be run by energy professionals. The requirement is that they have detailed experience and ability to deliver projects, and run the risks. We are allocating a significant amount to these projects. If we are committing them then there is the due diligence that we go through to ensure we allocate the moneys correctly, which requires a certain standard, and some communities have it while others do not. They participate in other ways, which we encourage as a learning process. If they want to lead a project the following year then they can see what is involved the year before they participate. I invite my colleague, Mr. O'Mahony, to answer the specific question on floodlights and I am happy to continue if the Senator has more questions.

I have one more question on sustainable energy grants. Would the SEAI support stand-alone grants for community groups? Community groups identify who is interested and who is in fuel poverty. In Scotland, for example, those groups get a grant to help them identify people. Would such a scheme help here? I mean apart from my query about the paperwork we could provide funding or a grant to those groups to identify who is interested in participating.

Ms Ruth Buggie

Yes. Our original warmer homes scheme was delivered only by community-based organisations for quite some time until it became a national programme. We started with that community-based model, and it has been key to building a relationship and trust at a local level, and who can be identified. Within the community programme, our communities develop their own charter that sets out their aims and ambitions, of which quite a number are to eliminate energy poverty locally, and they really do know the houses to bring in. With the development of one-stop shops and the extension to the warmer homes scheme, it is easier for communities to refer households into those systems because they themselves may not be in a position to deliver the services directly but they can do the referral. Such a situation is hugely valuable to us. On-the-ground knowledge beats an office in Dublin.

Needless to say, Sinn Féin supports them having a grant.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

The Senator asked about lighting at sports playing facilities. Lighting is allowed as a technology that we support in the playing fields. Lighting as a general measure within a building is not supported because LEDs are an off-the-shelf technology that are available everywhere but they are supported for the playing fields.

They are recognised as a technology that could deliver energy savings that we are supporting in the community energy grant scheme this year.

Will the SEAI continue to support it in the future?

Mr. Brian O'Mahony


I thank Mr. O'Mahony.

Senator Boylan got quite a few questions at the expense of her colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, who is the next speaker.

I do not mind at all. I thank the witnesses. I will pick up on some of those points. In terms of sustainable energy communities, the SEAI came stated that it has a target of 500 SECs by 2025 and that it has 655. Very often in this field, it is the exact opposite, which says to me, that communities are champing at the bit. They are eager in this regard.

I met with many SECs, which will reflect on the experience. Some of the issues that have arisen relate to, for example, getting to grips with finance. A number of local authorities are now supporting them in that regard. It is a question of getting into the doing phase and delivering. We will have an opportunity to come back with further questions. What do the witnesses see as the potential for the SECs in their experience of them thus far? It seems that there is spectacular potential in terms of identifying place-based solutions on an area-by-area basis, mapping out the areas of greatest need and the potential to address energy poverty. How do we enable and empower those communities to take the next step? From the SEAI's perspective, where are the challenges and hurdles that need to be addressed within the SEC system and what is the ultimate potential of it?

Ms Ruth Buggie

I am happy to take that question. The potential is absolutely huge. The ambition that we see at a community level is incredible. We talk about the stage of doing an energy project, but communities are doing from the very day they start. I refer to all they do in hosting events and bringing people together, identifying contractors, trying to identify supply chains to do works and trying to see which buildings need the most work. Even just coming together and having that conversation with local people is hugely valuable to us. Obviously, during Covid we did not see as much of that, but they have come back very strongly in recent months and we are seeing an awful lot more activity in terms of communities launching energy master plans. It is very welcome that local authorities have stepped up and are doing the pre-funding of the energy master plan for communities. A number of local authorities have reached out and said that they see the opportunity there, that those local energy master plans will feed into their climate action plan at a county level. They see the opportunity to be able to bring them together. We encourage communities to look for their unique opportunities and challenges. Personally, and from an ambition point of view, when communities knock on the door, I wish I could hand them their energy master plans and then help them get started, rather than start the process with them having to draw up those plans themselves. We hold a lot of data in Ireland and we want to try to find better ways to give the information to guide them on their doing stage, which would be hugely valuable. The mentors are in place and they are great.

There is significant funding outside of the SEAI as well. The Minister launched grant information late last year for €60 million under the climate action fund, which is another key area of funding. There was a recent announcement for community centres of €15 million. The question is how we get communities geared up to participate and how we make the processes easier for communities to participate as well.

I meant to say that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage was invited to attend this meeting. Its representatives should be here today because that Department has a big responsibility in respect of these issues. My sense, from its response and apology, is that it does not fully understand its role or if it does, it is not responding adequately. I want to put that on the record. The departmental officials should be here as they have a major responsibility for this area.

Does Ms Buggie believe there is a structure in terms of delivery? From my experience of SECs, a lot of them are tied in with public participation networks and local government and there is a lien between SEAI structures and local authority structures. Does she think the current structure is fit for purpose or is there an opportunity to improve on it?

Ms Ruth Buggie

There is always room for improvement. We keep a very flexible structure, to adapt to a wide range of different community interests. There is no prescription that we must do it this way or that way. It is a case of what people think they can do, when they think they are ready for it and how we can support them when they are ready for it. It is quite a loose structure and it remains very flexible to keep pace with communities. Their interests are evolving from the application process into the network. Communities are asked to identify their key motivation to join the network. There are six options that they can choose from. When the scheme started, we were seeing one to two different motivations when they joined and now they are picking four different areas that they are interested in. The range of community interests is getting much bigger and their ambition is growing alongside that. There are ways that we can certainly make it easier for communities to participate, but the PPN structure has been really good in linking the different community actions and making sure that the communities are participating within their locality and representing the widest area of interest.

Ms Gillian Baker

In terms of the RESS, we do have a community enabling framework of supports, which we just launched in April of this year. This is targeted at a specific niche sector of renewable energy communities that have big ambitions to generate their own projects and participate in the RESS auction. We have seven renewable energy communities in RESS 1. Each of those has a sustainable energy community involved in its project. The results of RESS 2 came out on Friday. A further nine communities were successful in that auction and they are actively developing their own, primarily solar, projects that will be developed over the next while. We have got the community enabling framework, which is a suite of resources that is available to any community that wishes to explore the opportunity of developing its own primarily wind and solar projects. We launched it in April with the first 70 communities. We are currently doing viability assessments on 11 of those. We have got panels of trusted adviser experts in grid and planning.

Do they have to be of a certain scale to apply for RESS?

Ms Gillian Baker

Yes, it is 0.5 MW to 5 MW, so it is that specific sector. They are really ambitious communities and we are delighted to support them. We have our full suite of supports, which we are rolling out across our network. We are seeing a huge amount of interest.

Mr. Rory Somers

I will add to what our colleagues in SEAI said and give the policy framework on communities. The Government is dedicated to supporting the community network to engage in the transition. We have a suite of policy measures that has been implemented in that vein. The first of those, in terms of communities, was to build a dedicated, ring-fenced community pot into each RESS. It is a competitive auction for relatively large-scale renewable projects. As our colleague said, seven projects are currently in RESS 1, involving 23 MW. They are a mixture of wind and solar projects. That is direct community involvement.

Our colleagues also referenced that RESS has a community benefit fund. All projects, including community projects, must contribute €2 per megawatt for all electricity generated. There are projects already generating electricity. We have two or three projects that are already connected. One of them is in Ashford, which is the first solar farm project in Ireland. That means those funds are now beginning to get populated with moneys. The fund is there to support local communities and local people impacted by those projects. That money will begin to become available for community projects in the area, including renewable projects. There is €4 million per annum in terms of the community benefit from RESS 1 alone, across all the projects, and we expect somewhere in the region of €5 million plus for RESS 2, depending on what the final decision is. That is real money coming into a distributed network of community and commercially related local community sectors.

RESS was the first vehicle for the community supports in this suite of measures. It started with slightly larger-scale projects. As our colleague mentioned, they are 0.5 MW up to 5 MW. That is quite a challenge for communities. We recognise that it is not easy to just go from zero to a relatively large project which requires a lot of professional co-ordination and funding.

We have moved forward with the microgeneration support scheme, as my colleague mentioned in her opening remarks. That provides grants for, currently, domestic and, soon, non-domestic, including community-based, organisations around solar PV. They will include sports organisations and non-domestic businesses, including local authorities. For slightly larger microgenerators from 6 kW to 50 kW, we will introduce an export tariff premium in order for those companies or organisations to get involved in installing solar PV, typically, but also other retrofit technologies. That is beginning to provide on the other end of the spectrum, in the microgeneration space, supports that can be accessed by the community.

We propose to go to public consultation later this year on a draft small-scale generation support scheme, which fills in the space between 50 kW at the smallest end up to RESS size, maybe even up to 1 MW. RESS is a competitive auction, so 15 community projects entered RESS and nine were successful. There is a fall-out rate but we are considering, and it will be part of the public consultation in the small-scale generation, using our ability to use the climate, energy and environmental aid guidelines, CEEAG, from the EU to avoid forcing communities into competitive environment with the potential to make a guaranteed feed-in tariff scheme available to them. That involves lower hurdles for communities to get involved, is on a smaller scale to start smaller, requires less financing and creates a less competitive environment for them to enter into.

Ms Justina Corcoran

On dialogue, we engage with communities annually in advance of each climate action plan. Last year, we had conversations at PPN level across 16 PPNs. This year we will do it across 31 over the next month or so. All the information we collect from those conversations is compiled and fed into the development of the plan. We make sure anyone who holds the pen on the chapters has all that information to hand. One of the outcomes of the conversations last year was the €60 million fund for the local and community sector to build low-carbon communities. Some of that fund has been set aside to build capacity in those communities so they are all able to start on a level playing field. That will be routed through local authorities who will work in partnership with the communities to deliver those low-carbon communities. We hope to build on that year by year to get more engagement with the communities, find out what they want to do and are able to do and what supports they need to deliver that. We will feed that back to the policy areas, including SEAI and the EPA. They all sit on the working group. It is to keep that flow of information in and out of the system.

I will ask a question related to Deputy Ó Rourke's. I thank the witnesses for the information on RESS 1 and 2. It seems the number of projects is still very small. The figure of 23 MW for RESS 1 was mentioned. I do not know, regarding RESS 2, what came out the other day for community projects in terms of output. What is the ambition for community renewable energy? Those numbers are very small in comparison to non-community generation.

Ms Gillian Baker

It is a niche area and a small number of communities that are interested. Going from a base of one community project, which was in Tipperary, seven was a good result. Nine in RESS 2 was also a good result. The policy comes and then, with the supports we have available, there is a lead-in time. We now have the full range of supports and we would expect to see a much bigger number going into RESS 3. We have grants available, expert trust advisers to guide communities through every step of the development process and information hubs so communities are fully informed about what is involved and how to navigate the grid and planning systems.

Can the witnesses give a sense of community projects that have not succeeded in RESS? If there are a lot of those, are we doing something wrong?

Ms Gillian Baker

It is a competitive auction so there were some disappointed communities. The results only came out on Friday and there are learnings to be had. There are other schemes that will to be looked at, the micro and the small scale as well.

Mr. Rory Somers

I will add some context around RESS. Ireland applied for, and was granted, state aid approval for RESS. Within that we specifically requested provision for a ring-fenced category for the community sector, which was innovative in relation to what is being done in other member states. It was heavily scrutinised by the Commission DG ENER and we were granted it. Events have overtaken us now and the new CEEAG have made it much easier to exclude people from competitive auctions. One of the conditions put in place by the Commission was that only 1% of the auction could be ring-fenced for the community sector. We are handcuffed by the state aid in respect of the scheme. That is why a limited number is available. Projects that are not successful can compete in subsequent auctions. If they are not successful in the first round, much of the work done, including technical, financial and planning work and grid connection, can be utilised to go again in the next round.

As our colleague from SEAI mentioned, we are planning to introduce next year an easier route for projects to access supports through the small-scale generation scheme. That public consultation will be later this year. That will inform the community sector of the optimum route for it to take. RESS is a good option for communities but is challenging in its nature. It is the only one available at the moment so for people who are well advanced, it applies a shovel-ready principle. If projects are ready, they will get through ahead of others. People who are less well prepared and were not successful may have better options next year.

Of the seven, did they all proceed to construction and connection?

Ms Gillian Baker

There are challenges. Some of them are struggling with supply chain inflationary issues. I am not aware of any that have officially decided not to proceed but they have the same challenges that face large utility developers across the board.

I have a question for the SEAI and will then focus on the Department on resourcing for local authorities. It has been acknowledged that local authorities play a huge role in meeting our targets. I was chair of the climate and biodiversity committee before I was elected. That was around the time the charter was announced. It was great to see this guidance from the Department but it did not seem to be matched with resourcing, which was a concern. I want to go into that a little.

SEAI representatives talk about all the different SEC network members but there are only 12 local authority members in the network. Can they explain why? We have 31 local authorities so that is a very small number that seem to be actively participating in the scheme.

The following is for the Department representatives and relates to funding: my understanding is that CARO has recommended a number of positions in each local authority in the climate action teams, including senior executive, liaison person, energy person, climate action officer, biodiversity person, environmental officers and green infrastructure person. That is nine staff per local authority. How many staff in each local authority are currently funded by the Department specifically to work in the climate action teams?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I will ask my colleague Ms Buggie to talk about SECs.

Ms Ruth Buggie

On the SEC side, 12 local authorities have joined as themselves. Others participate in a range of different programmes we work alongside them on. Joining the SEC network is about wanting to participate in a peer-learning network. It is optional and would not preclude them being involved and supporting SECs in other ways. We see it as a strong relationship that we have with local authorities but just 12 have chosen to join the network as themselves.

We are under pressure to meet our target and get these projects. There is a time lag in getting the projects started and there is a fall-off as well.

What are the barriers? Why are councils not keen to go towards this? Is resourcing an issue?

Ms Ruth Buggie

Possibly. It could be the broad nature of SECs and where this actually sits within the different local authority structures. We certainly engage with local authorities in various different ways and with different staff, depending on what is being done and which area they are interested in. I would not take it as a reflection of their interest in the programme or their support of the programme. They have certainly moved very much in the last year to do that pre-financing of the energy master plan. They are effectively cash-rolling the communities so they do not have to get other funding to deliver the energy master plan. It has been very successful in that way.

With regard to the 12 that are there, we do not target them and we have not invited them specifically. Maybe that is something we can take from today, namely, that we reach out to the others that are not there and invite them to actively participate in the network as an action from our conversation.

That would be great. As Deputy O'Rourke said, it is a pity we do not have the representatives from local government here.

On that point, and I know the Deputy was not able to make the private meeting, we are going to invite the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage officials back in as part of this series, which is very important. I echo the disappointment that they are not here today. We are also going to have representatives of the local government organisations in the sessions that are coming up.

That is great. I had a question to the Department in regard to resourcing.

Ms Justina Corcoran

We currently fund the climate action regional offices, CAROs and we give them €10 million over five years, which is €2 million a year. They were originally established to oversee the national adaptation framework, where there was an onus on local authorities to devise 31 local adaptation strategies. They co-ordinated that piece of work and that work has been done since 2019 and it is now in the implementation phase. Because the climate action plans have to have adaptation and mitigation measures in them, those strategies will now merge into an overall climate action plan. We would foresee an active role for the CAROs to oversee and co-ordinate that process, working closely with the Department and the local authorities.

The other piece the Deputy raised is around the staff in the local authorities - the people on the ground - and the need for a climate co-ordinator and a climate action officer. The local authorities have had a submission with the Department for some time. We have been working with the local authorities and I meet them on a regular basis. Because we are not traditionally the parent Department for local authorities, we need to make sure our own structures are aligned and that we are adhering to all of our public spending code responsibilities, and that our Vote is set up to allow for all of that funding. It is being considered at the highest level within the Department. The Department recognises funding is needed to deliver on the commitments set out in the climate Act and under the national climate action plan. I hope we would have something positive to report to the local authorities over the next short while.

There has been no funding for any additional staff in the local authorities themselves and it has only been for CAROs.

Ms Justina Corcoran

We fund the CAROs and we funded a training programme. We provided some €617,000 a year to train all of the local authority staff, from elected members to people on the roads. That is the funding that comes from our Department. There may be funding in other pockets on the wayside or on the airside, for example, from the Department of Transport. There could be pockets of funding for specific programmes but, as a Department funding the local authority staff in place, we have not done that.

That would give me cause for concern about implementation because when we read the documentation and the submissions, there is a lot of very good work and very good plans and policies, but we need to see them rolled out on the ground. If the local authorities do not have the staff or the skills and, let us face it, a lot of these skills are relatively new and five years ago are not something a local authority would have been really focused on, then I would have significant concerns about that. I know each of the counties and local authorities need to have identified a decarbonisation town that is going to be the pilot. I am looking at the range of activities that are required and it is huge. It would need a team of people to do that. They were established in 2021 and they have to do a baseline on emissions and they must have placemaking and active travel reports done, as well as implementation plans and spatial plans. All of this work was to be completed by the end of 2021 and they were to look at active travel, public transport and remote working job opportunities. It was a huge amount of work and the councils did not receive-----

Ms Justina Corcoran

On active travel and the like, it might be the relevant Department. For example, people might deal with the Department of Transport in terms of funding around transport. I would not have that level of detail. There might be more on the ground but not directly from our Department.

In regard to active travel, I know there has been significant funding for staff of local authorities but I would have expected to see a corresponding level of staff. In my own county of Wicklow, 12 additional staff have been put into the area of active travel and it would appear there are no staff to deal with the climate action charter that the Government has put in place. It seems an awful lot of requirements are being placed on local authorities but the money is not there to help them roll this out. This comes back to the comment made by Deputy Bruton that we need to make sure that people are supported in implementing this. We are two or three years into this. Ms Corcoran expects that this funding will be provided in the short term but what is the timeframe for that funding? My understanding is that if a council is looking for a staff member, the SEAI signs off on it but it has to be sanctioned by the Department. Is there a two-pronged approach and how long would that normally take?

Ms Justina Corcoran

My understanding is that any sign-off on staff numbers increasing or staff headcount is done through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, so even if we provided a pot of money to the local authorities for whatever reason, we would have to issue a letter of comfort to say that money was going to be paid to it on a regular basis so it could go ahead and then get that sanction from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I assume there is a similar process in place with SEAI but we do not manage the headcount there.

It seems quite a complex process and one that would take a long time.

Ms Justina Corcoran

Yes, it does take a long time.

Excuse me. I want to be fair to Deputy Bríd Smith, who has been waiting.

I thank the witnesses for the presentations. I missed the very beginning of the meeting because I was out on the picket lines. As a starting point, Dr. Ciaran Byrne mentioned there is a single homogenous definition of communities. I want to tease out what that might be. For example, back in 2018, I met a sixth-year leaving certificate class from a boys school in Sutton who came regularly to the Dáil, looking for our support because they had worked out a plan. It was very interesting to see young men working out the science and to see the preciseness of what they were doing in order to solar power the entire school and all its needs, and to have solar panels located on the roof. They were looking everywhere for support but they were getting none, back in the day. If Dr. Byrne is familiar with the project, he might respond.

What struck me was that they were not getting a good response from any Department or, at the time, the SEAI. If I remember it correctly, the total amount it would have cost was some €20,000 and they were willing to do fundraising to try to raise about half of it but they were not getting support. Had that been supported and had it worked, there would have been a school in a community that has set an example that could be rolled out elsewhere and that nearly every school could take on board, not just as part of an education of the leaving certificate science students, but also as part of showing what can be done to power through renewable energy an aspect of the community. That is why am asking about this homogenous definition of community.

The other point I would like to make about definitions of communities is this. I live in Dublin South-Central, one of the poorest areas. I will not say it is disadvantaged but it has a high level of low-income earners throughout the inner city and in places like Ballyfermot and Crumlin. If they are not highly organised into community groups, how do they get to access this kind of project that the witnesses are talking about? In other words, do the SEAI and other bodies see it as part of their job to have an outreach programme to make sure all communities are engaged and to ensure nobody is left behind? One of the witnesses mentioned earlier that the focus is on delivering deeper retrofits and it is Government policy and SEAI policy, and it is very expensive and all the rest of it.

Surely, though, we should be starting with the basics and ensuring that everyone has some way of accessing renewables. Dare I mention, as Deputy Bruton did, the matter of retrofitting? The Chairman does not want us to dwell on it, but I have a question. I have encountered many people who got support 15 or 20 years ago to have their attics lagged. That lagging is no longer sufficient, perhaps because the material used was not good enough, and they are now living in cold homes. Every time I ask the SEAI, I am told that these people had work done and are not getting any further support. Has this situation changed? I would like a definite answer because I am getting mixed messages from the SEAI.

My final question relates to charging points in apartment blocks.

I thank the Deputy, but she has had approximately four and a half minutes. She must be quick.

Can we ensure that their installation is accelerated in areas where people are keen to charge their electric cars but have no access to charging points?

I am glad to hear that Deputies Smith and Bruton are on the same page. I believe that is a first.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I am not sure that I spoke about a single homogenous definition of "community", but if I did, let me clarify my remark. There is no single homogenous definition of "community". One of the key skills and strengths of our community programme is that we take a flexible approach to communities, as my colleague outlined.

I will hand over to my colleague. I do not know whether we have details on the specific issue of the schools programme, but we can discuss the outreach programme and access.

The Deputy spoke about attics being lagged and whatnot. I assume that they fall under the warm homes programme, which provides free energy upgrades. If so, a policy change was announced this February to the effect that we would be facilitating revisits to homes. Heretofore, a home was visited once and that was it. We have changed that policy so that homes can be visited again. We will be able to go back to those homes as part of the overall revisit strategy.

Ms Ruth Buggie

The Sutton school may have been one of our SECs. I am not familiar with the details of its grant application, but in light of the earlier work that Mr. O'Mahony mentioned, grant applications have to include more than one technology. A single-technology application to the grant programme would be challenging. That may be why it was unsuccessful. I am happy to look into the case and revert to the Deputy when we get the details.

Regarding outreach, a large part of what SECs do is try to engage their wider communities. Our communities typically come from the likes of local development committees and Tidy Towns groups, which are well used to outreach initiatives. In addition, the mentors that we have supporting the communities are specifically tasked with networking with all local community organisations and groups to make people aware of matters. Since we keep the mentors close within the local authority area, they are local to where the communities are active.

Further to outreach, we have a schools programme. We offer free workshops on climate change to schools - two levels within primary and also in junior cycle. We provide workshops for teachers as well. We are active in matters of outreach. We host a large number of events and participate in many events that our communities host.

I thank the witnesses for their answers. If there is an application to power a school by solar, will Ms Buggie explain why it has to involve two different technologies? Why is solar not sufficient?

Ms Ruth Buggie

The grant programme that funds the community grants is an energy efficiency one whereas solar would be seen as a renewable electricity programme. We have a fabric first approach to the allocation of grants. The first attempt is to reduce the amount of energy required by the building. We then consider renewable technologies to support it. Typically, if the only technology was solar, it would not have been successful under the approach being taken in the grant programme at the time.

Would reviewing that approach be worthwhile?

Ms Ruth Buggie

There are other areas developing that will provide opportunities for schools and other buildings to participate in solar without having to go through the trouble of a grant programme. Under the clean export premium that will come in later this year, they will be paid for any excess power. Given the economics of such a project, the payback period would be much shorter, making it easier to participate. It will provide an opportunity for other buildings to see where renewable technologies suit their energy demands.

Mr. Rory Somers

The microgeneration support scheme is offering grants for domestic solar PV. Within the next couple of months, that will be extended to the non-domestic sector, including schools and community organisations, as a single measure. It will be an upfront capital grant towards the cost of solar PV up to 6 kW.

Regarding schools specifically, there are guidelines in place from the Department of Education limiting the size of solar PV installations. If I am correct, the maximum size for a primary school is 2 kW and 4 kW for a secondary school. We understand that these limits may be subject to review by the Department of Education in the context of revisions and requirements under REPowerEU to accelerate the deployment of renewables. If schools want larger systems and can fund them, there will be an opportunity in future to get the clean export premium tariff, which will be between 6 kW and 50 kW.

I was late to the meeting, but I have listened to all of the contributions. I thank the witnesses for their presentations.

I will pick up on something that Deputy Bruton touched on at the start. I will not say that there was evasion, but we need to dig deeper into this matter, namely, the fact that no EV charging points have been installed by local authorities. This is based on a parliamentary question that I tabled to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications asking how many EV chargers Cork County Council had installed. The answer was "Zero". The council did not just install zero EV charging points, though. It also did not apply for any funding under the SEAI’s EV public grant scheme, which is specifically for local authorities to provide EV charging points. Interestingly, the Department confirmed in the reply that the council had asked for a single application form. This tells me that the council thought about the scheme, looked at it and then decided that the scheme was not for it.

I find this disappointing. We are seeing more EVs on the road. In future, the majority of people will be charging their EVs at home overnight at lower tariff periods. For tourism areas in particular, public EV charging points will be vital infrastructure, but people are coming up against brick walls and all types of obstacle to providing charging points in their communities and villages. I could provide examples. Durrus is a village between the Mizen Head and Sheep’s Head peninsulas and an incredibly popular tourist destination. It has been trying for years to get an EV charging point through the local authority, failing on every occasion. That is a shame, given the desire in Durrus. An even more disappointing scenario arose in Courtmacsherry, another popular tourist destination. The community-----

We will not go around west Cork.

This is an important point.

I am just conscious that the question is probably more for officials from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I will leave it to the Deputy, though.

No. This session is on local authorities and how to enable them to-----

We invited officials from the Department to attend, but they were unable to. We will ask them to attend to address issues.

Should I avoid any local authority-related question?

The Department of-----

The SEAI administers the grant and the Department of Transport also responded to my parliamentary question, so this matter is relevant.

There was an answer to the effect that it was up to the local authorities to apply.

I wish to outline further what is happening on the ground. The community in Courtmacsherry, realising that EV chargers were going to be an important piece infrastructure in future, decided to get the finances together themselves to purchase one, but Cork County Council refused to install it. The council’s response was that it had no role in providing this type of public charging infrastructure.

It is incredibly disappointing and begs the question of what the hell the point of a EV public grant scheme is. It is absolutely irrelevant if local authorities do not see themselves as playing a role in it. We must therefore dig deeper into the issue. Cork County Council is not here to answer and the Department is not here but we have the SEAI, which administers that scheme. If Cork County Council is requesting an application form and that is it, and it stops there, what is the future? This applies to all tourism destinations, not just those in west Cork. I am aware I am being parochial about Durrus and Courtmacsherry but the same could be said for Mayo, Clare, Kerry and other places right throughout the west coast and around Ireland. It is going to be a turn-off. It feeds into this fear about the range of EVs.

Okay. Let us give our guests an opportunity to answer. Dr. Byrne might begin.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I thank the Deputy for his question. I was listening intently to it. I cannot offer any significant detail from the SEAI perspective at this juncture because the question of EV charging points would come to our transport team. What the Deputy has outlined is what I responded to Deputy Bruton about earlier. We administer that grant on a kind of drawdown basis. When it is drawn down, we will pay it out. Clearly, there are some issues there we must work through. I obviously cannot speak from the perspective of the local authorities on what their viewpoint is but I am happy to respond to the Deputy offline on the specific interactions we have had from our transport team about EV chargers.

I appreciate Dr. Byrne's offer to respond offline but there must be some type of accountability here. There seems to be none. The local authority essentially seems to be washing its hands. Deputy Whitmore spoke earlier about how local authorities do not have the resources and expertise. The SEAI has a grant for them to avail of and they are not doing so. The Department and the SEAI can put as much funding as possible towards something, but the local authority must buy into these schemes as well. They produce climate action plans but these must represent more than just words on paper. They have to put actions where their words are. It is of absolute importance if we are to be serious about reducing emissions, which in this case are transport emissions.

We have invited the representative group of the elected members of the councils but also the representative group of the officials. They are due next week, as indeed are the climate adaptation regional offices. Ms Corcoran wishes to speak.

Ms Justina Corcoran

The climate action plans the local authorities will have to produce, with the mitigation and adaptation actions in them, will all be measurable. They are establishing a baseline for emissions and they will report on those periodically as well, so we will be able to measure that delivery and the implementation similarly to how we do it at the national level on the climate action plan.

That is important. I was mayor of Cork County Council when we produced our first climate action plan. There was a section of that plan dedicated to the roll-out of EV chargers and we have not seen it. There has to be some level of accountability. That is all I am saying.

Do our guests wish to make any other contributions? They do not. Deputy Devlin is next.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome our guests. It has been a good engagement thus far. There have certainly been many good answers coming back from the officials.

I begin with the various schemes outlined in the opening statement. It is useful to hear how certain schemes are progressing. I caution against the use of acronyms because while I am aware that there are many schemes, we are trying to take people with us here and there is a lot of similarity between those acronyms. People could get lost. For the benefit of the committee, will our guests outline the difference between the community energy grant, the sustainable energy communities grant, the renewable electricity support scheme, the community benefit fund and the microgeneration scheme? I ask because some of them, as I heard in the opening statement, are ones people can apply for. Local communities were mentioned earlier in a response to one of the other members. Some of the organisations and groups have already come together. They are very familiar with making these applications and that is true. I am more conscious of the ones that are new to the whole idea.

Dr. Byrne also mentioned the community energy officers in his opening statement. Are they going to be there to assist with all these schemes or is it specifically around microgeneration? Are they there to assist the local authorities in delivering on the authorities' own plans? That is my first question.

Mr. Somers spoke about the renewable electricity support scheme. He highlighted there were parameters. I think he used the word "handcuffed" about European legislation on-----

Mr. Rory Somers

State aid.

-----state aid rules. How do we fare against our European counterparts on this? What we are talking about here is not innovative, per se. Many EU jurisdictions are way ahead of us and we are trying to play catch-up on that. I do not want to waste time - and we do not have it to waste - to try to catch up to where some of our counterparts are at.

Turning to the Department, Mr. Deegan referenced the national retrofit plan in his opening remarks, thankfully. I heard what the Chairman said but I am going to ignore that and ask three points on it. One is the one-stop shop. We have spoken about that before but by my reckoning things have not improved on that. There is a great willingness to participate from the public. Mr. Deegan might provide an update. People who were previously approved for schemes were mentioned earlier, I think by Deputy Bríd Smith. That could have been the new 80% scheme announced earlier this year or indeed a previous scheme many years ago. Where do those people stand in regard to applying for the new 80% scheme? Let us say they made an application last year. The terms have improved, so can they avail of that improved scheme? The final point concerns the people who have actually had the assessments done. I think Deputy Bruton spoke about them earlier. We might refer to this cohort as the low-hanging fruit. These are simple, semi-detached houses, or maybe end-of-terrace ones. They are the ones that are easy and straightforward. However, what of more complex properties? What method is there for those property owners to engage to try to alleviate the concerns raised in the report?

I thank the Deputy. I ask Dr. Byrne to begin on the acronyms.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I thank the Deputy. He has hit the nail on the head with the acronyms. I am afraid I do not have a simple solution-----

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

-----but the Deputy has raised a good point because that is the language we use. It is something we are acutely aware of when we deal with communities, especially vulnerable communities. We generally try to put our communications in plain English and have our website checked for plain English in order that when we are talking to communities, we talk in a language they use rather than the one we do. It is a well-made point.

The community energy grant programme is just a larger communities programme that links industry and communities together. As I mentioned at the outset, you are looking at significant levels of grant applications - up €74 million, with up to €25 million in grant support. That is the largest of the programmes. The SEC has a grant within that and it is effectively to fund the energy master plan. A small community can come together and get a 100% grant for their energy master plan. Separate to that, my colleague Ms Baker outlined the renewable energy support scheme. Within that we have a grant available for the schemes on their journey towards their renewables projects. Separate to that again is when they are up and running and generating electricity, there is a community benefit fund which is effectively the money going back. That is it at a very high level. We are happy to give the Deputy a one-pager with a breakdown of those offline.

I ask my colleague Ms Buggie to come in on the community energy officers. Then we might go to my colleague Mr. O'Mahony for an update on the three interesting questions on retrofit, which we are not talking about.

Ms Ruth Buggie

The community energy officer pilot that is outlined is rolling out in the north-west region at the moment as part of a technical services bureau to support the local authorities in that region. The intent is that it would be outward-facing to support the communities and enable the community action that is outlined in their energy master plans. We are piloting it so we are still trying to learn what exactly it will look like and we are still waiting for that person to be appointed. I believe it is out at the moment. Something similar has been offered, I think, in the Border and eastern region as well just to see which model of support is best. The intent is to cut across much of what Deputy Whitmore mentioned about the numerous different roles within local authorities and how a community may not know which door to knock on. We want to make that possible. It is a work in progress.

Okay. How long does Ms Buggie reckon it will be before a definitive model is found?

Ms Ruth Buggie

I hope we will have something by the end of this year that we could look to replicate.

That is good to know.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I ask my colleague Mr. O'Mahony to come in to answer three questions - those relating to an update on the one-stop shops, the approvals under the 80% grant scheme and the home energy assessment in a technical sense.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

The one-stop shop service was launched in February and five one-stop shops have been registered. There are a further 17 companies we are talking to that are at various stages in the registration process. There has been significant interest since the scheme was announced by the Government. If a person wants to carry out a deeper retrofit, there is a two-stage process. The first stage is doing an assessment. Approximately 150 homes are at that stage. The next stage is carrying out the retrofit works. A person has 12 months within which to complete that under the grant scheme. There are nearly 100 applications for that stage. The scheme is starting to ramp up in volume. We expect more one-stop shops to come on stream to meet the demand from homeowners in Ireland, which is very significant.

The 80% funding is offered for two measures. I presume the Deputy's question was in relation to attic and cavity wall insulation.

Yes, primarily.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

The funding is provided to both of those measures. Since February, we have seen a significant growth in the application rate for our schemes. By May 2022, we had received 80% of all the applications we received in 2021. We saw a significant growth in the number of applications since February across all our schemes, based on the Government announcement. Many people are applying for cavity and attic insulation, which is 80% funding, as well as solar PV and there is growing interest in doing deeper retrofits. We expect by the middle of the year, we will have received the same number of applications to do work that we received for all of last year, which is actually very positive.

The other question the Deputy asked was about complex properties. I presume he is referring to apartment buildings or-----

Older houses specifically.

Mr. Brian O'Mahony

First, it would be on apartments or multi-family homes. We have schemes to support people who want to make applications for a single home. That amounts to the bulk of our customer-facing programmes. The community energy grant scheme, which Mr. Byrne mentioned, supports people who live in more complicated buildings like apartments and multi-family homes. We are looking at what the uptake is, how we can deliver that and what technologies are available. There is an opportunity in the future to move into solutions other than those available today, like heat pumps and things like that.

The Deputy asked about complex buildings such as older buildings. Generally, in the Irish housing stock there is cement based or concrete construction that commenced from the 1930s onwards. Many of those homes are very suitable for the products we support through our schemes. Many of the older homes, which some people call heritage buildings or buildings that are protected, were constructed a long time ago, maybe more than 100 years ago. They perform differently from a physics perspective because some of those buildings need to breathe. They need specific insulation or materials during retrofitting. The Department carried out a consultation on this and is developing guidance on how to retrofit those homes and the appropriate materials to do so.

SEAI has funded the retrofitting of older homes but some of those older homes face a challenge in the market, which is recognised by the Department and the industry. Our schemes require the materials used to meet certain standards and to be agrément certified because we want to make sure the right product goes in, that the home is upgraded to the right level, so that there will not be a problem down the road in a number of years time. That is really important and is the reason the Department and NSAI are doing this study into what are the appropriate products that we can support. When that study is complete, we will incorporate that into our grant schemes to support those homes.

Mr. Rory Somers

By way of information on the State aid issue, RESS is an auction-based support scheme for grid-scale renewables and it is there to deliver on the objective of reaching the 80% renewable electricity target by 2030. It is a very substantial target, higher than any other member state is attempting to reach. We are very much at the vanguard of the deployment of renewable electricity into the electricity grid. In order to do that, there is guaranteed funding for the successful prices bid. At the moment, we all recognise that with electricity prices being high, there is no need for the public service obligation levy, PSO, to fund because there is no gap between the market value of electricity they receive and their bid price. However, those projects would not go ahead unless they had an insurance policy, if they were not underwritten by the PSO for times when we all hope electricity prices will reduce again; it certainly was the case when the scheme was developed and approved by the former Minister who is sitting with us today.

When one relies on the public service obligation levy, from which public money is effectively used through the payment of electricity customers, one has obligations in relation to state aid. The committee is probably aware that member states are obliged to comply with state aid regulations. For small amounts of money there are de minimis amounts. There is a self-reporting requirement under general block exemption regulations, whereby the member state has to notify the EU, but there is not a lot of other reporting.

With the scale of moneys required under the RESS scheme overall, billions of euro, the EU has a policy around interfering in the marketplace and it wants everything done on a competitive basis because the electricity market is an open, competitive market. To allow us to have the community ring-fenced category within the State aid approval was innovative at member state level within the EU. It was a departure for the Commission and I wish to say that upfront. It was also recognised by the Government that it wanted to include communities and bring them along the journey. That was the reason we went to the Commission knowing it was something it had not supported in the past but we recognised as a Government and a Department that it was important to separate community involvement. We believe in the principle that if you bring the communities along, it will support and reinforce local attitudes towards grid-scale renewables. To get them involved directly, initially in the renewable electricity support scheme, they had to be at least 51% owned by community members. That was recently changed for RESS 2. That figure is now 100% owned by community members. That is to deal with the potential. There were other examples, such as in Germany, where that was attempted but developers found ways around that to take up that capacity within the auctions in Germany. We wanted to avoid that, and the requirement in RESS 2 is for 100% community owned. That again puts us at the vanguard of what is happening in the EU.

I was in Brussels last week at a seminar of the Commission with all the member states on active consumers in energy communities. We were invited to present to the other member states on what we have done in Ireland in relation to the supports and how we are developing the community network. The response from the Commission was that we were very far ahead of many other member states. I wish to tease that out a little bit. Many countries have done community-activated projects, but that has happened primarily in the past ten years. There is very little going on with a lot of stagnation in that space. Many member states are looking at it in a purely competitive, market price environment. Communities are offered the opportunity to participate but they do not participate. From our perspective, the Commission was very interested in the fact that we have these community supports through the SEAI that are very well developed and clear. We have a network of a huge number of active sustainable energy communities that are widely dispersed across the country and are supporting community efforts to get involved across a range of activities. The fact that we were funding this directly with Exchequer funding was also a point of note.

It is very interesting to hear that. I thank Mr. Somers and Deputy Devlin.

I thank the witnesses for their comments. I agree with Deputies Christopher O'Sullivan and Bruton about the electric vehicle charging points. It is frustrating when so much funding is available and people fail to apply for it. We have a problem in Connemara too, so it is not just Westport. It goes to the heart of the point I am going to make, which is we have to bring communities with us. That is a key part of the Government's approach and it is the right approach. We are looking at sectoral emissions ceilings.

How will we achieve things if we do not ensure there is more than an opt-in from local authorities? I know we had a witness with us a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Seamus Hoyne, from the climate action regional offices who does education. He looked at county and city development plans before engaging with the councils. He looked at how they might be improved to help to ensure there was more sustainable development. The question is whether that is enough. At what point do we have to say local authorities have an obligation when it comes to meeting our targets and the targets in the county and city development plans? That runs through planning. I absolutely agree many good people are working in local authorities but is it helping when they do not have targets and they are battling for funding with other parts of local authorities? That is a challenging question.

That is probably a question for next week.

I do not know that it is. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has to implement some of these things, but it comes down to experts in the area of sustainability and climate saying what is needed from local authorities.

That is probably for Mr. Deegan and his officials.

Ms Justina Corcoran

The legislation places an onus on local authorities to have climate action plans in place by the end of 2023. There was a process behind that and guidelines were set out. We want 31 local authority plans that are of equal weight with regard to what they can deliver, provided they start at a similar baseline. That is the vehicle to progress some of this, since there is a statutory obligation on them to develop and deliver on those plans. That is where the accountability is. I do not have control of different aspects of that, so I am not sure-----

Maybe it is a question to leave there but it is important to have it on the record. Having worked as a councillor, although for a brief time, we brought in a climate adaptation strategy for the city and things moved on towards mitigation plans. There were no mitigation targets, which is my point.

Ms Justina Corcoran

That will be in the new plans. One of the first things they have to do is establish their baseline. They need to find out the starting point and then show how they have reduced emissions year on year. We want to be able to show how the local authority sector has contributed to the national climate objectives. If it is in our national climate action plan that we want to reduce emissions next year by 4.8% or 4.7%, we want to be able to see what the local authority sector has contributed, for them and for us, so that we can see where resources are needed, where work is happening and what feeds into it. It will be important to measure the delivery of the climate action plan.

Mr. Robert Deegan

While there might not be global targets, there are individual sectoral targets. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has set ten-year targets for local authorities' retrofitting programmes in their housing stock. Maybe that can be replicated in other areas, building up to the overall picture.

Planning is difficult. I think it is a key part local authorities play. It relates to the kind of development we have, whether one-off housing, a more sustainable 15-minute city, or reinvigorating our town centres to make them more liveable. Is there somewhere to put targets in place for each local authority to have to adhere to? Do the witnesses recognise the role that plays in reducing emissions?

Ms Justina Corcoran

The Department has recently put in place new resources, with a new role at principal officer level to look at planning. It is not a role we have had in the Department until now. That person is looking at the planning area and local authorities. We have engaged with that section about the local authorities' development plans, the climate action plans and how they align. There are different time limits and efforts to feed into plans. They may already have gone a certain way. We try to align some of those processes and to align the national climate action plan with the local ones so we are not all approaching it from different angles. There has been much more engagement and more dialogue in our Department about where that fits into the overall planning picture and the plans.

Ms Corcoran says things are moving in different directions and she is trying to catch things when they are already happening. It is a concern that many county and city development plans are nearing completion. Might there be a point where Ms Corcoran could come back to say they need to be re-examined earlier so that we are not waiting until the next round?

Ms Justina Corcoran

There could be a mid-year review or such to feed into it.

The other side of planning is transport and the role of local authorities in transport emissions. Local authorities make decisions about active travel networks, new roads and so on. Will the climate action plans for local authorities capture transport? Can the witnesses answer that now?

Ms Justina Corcoran

The local authority plans will have a scope. Transport will fall into that scope. We want to align national and local plans. I think I missed a bit of the question.

There may be a few hundred kilotonnes of emissions in the jurisdiction of a local authority in Limerick. The target looks to reduce them by 50%. Will the local authority, via the climate action plan, have responsibility for reducing transport emissions?

Ms Justina Corcoran

They will definitely have a responsibility for reducing emissions that are within their control. That might mean electrifying the local authority's own fleet. I am not sure how far that reaches. I do not think they have responsibility for reducing emissions in the whole area.

If they do not, who does?

Ms Justina Corcoran

I guess that is-----

It has to be distilled to a local level. If the sectoral target is to reduce 12 megatonnes to 6 megatonnes by 2030, is it enough to say we will transition a certain number of vehicles and public transport journeys or are local targets needed to do so? Can those local targets be given to local authorities? They can do many things that would change behaviour and patterns in their area. Would the climate action plan try to capture that? It is separate to local authorities' own fleets of vehicles and emissions directly in their area, but local authorities still have significant influence over emissions in the broader area.

Ms Justina Corcoran

The current national climate action plan of 2021 has 109 actions for which local authorities are the leader or key stakeholder for delivery. There will still be things coming from the transport chapter down to what needs to be done by local authorities and what needs to be done in particular areas. There are national and local ones. I do not think all that responsibility is going on the local authorities for delivery. I do not think that is in the scope of the local authority plans.

I accept Ms Corcoran's answer but it brings to mind Senator Pauline O'Reilly's question as to whether they will be responsible for the planning decisions they make and the carbon emissions associated with those. How do you make the local authorities take responsibility? It is a pretty big question.

Ms Justina Corcoran

It is.

I am not sure if the local authorities are really switched on to what we think they will need to do. We will ask them next week, when they come in.

We will keep asking the question every week.

Ms Ruth Buggie

Not to answer on behalf of the local authorities but there is a really good example in Laois County Council, where Portlaoise was funded under the original climate action fund to develop a plan to be carbon neutral by 2040. It has a really good roadmap of what it needs to do to develop renewables, around EVs and retrofitting. It is all there for their carbon emissions and its options. It is done in a really interactive way that is very engaging. It is a good example of what can be shown as a pathway towards carbon neutrality by a local authority. It was a climate action fund funded-project in the first batch. That is all available on its website and it looks really good.

That is for County Laois?

Ms Ruth Buggie

Yes, for Portlaoise.

Ms Justina Corcoran

We submitted that as one of the decarbonisation zone areas where you would escalate it.

We will have a look at that. It is a big question. Central government can only do so much. If it is not being taken seriously at local government level, then we will not hit the targets.

I thank everyone for their presentations. My first question is for the SEAI. Its opening statement stated:

We are catalysts for action through our grant and incentive programmes and capacity-building processes. Citizens, communities, businesses and other stakeholders are at the heart of everything we deliver.

Many of these schemes were conceived when we were in a different position. We are now in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis in respect of fuel, rent and shortly food too. There is a war going on on our Continent. A previous meeting of the committee heard there was some confusion among the public around the grants and incentives that exist and around applying for them. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul recommended that local community energy advisers be deployed in communities for two reasons. First they would act as a point of information and second they could target certain people. We all know our communities well and we know the people who are involved in things like the Tidy Towns. They are often retired people who have time but there is another cohort who are working every hour God sends and are collecting their children from crèches and so on and they do not really have time to find this information. What efforts are the local SEAI groups making to target those working people who are in good jobs and who may be new to experiencing fuel poverty, as well as those who are well used to it? How are we actually targeting those people? They often do not have the time to find out what is available.

My next question is for the Department. Earlier sessions have heard about the national retrofit scheme. Is there a named person in each local authority with the responsibility for sign-off to ensure that public money and grants are going to the right people and being spent? Is there a person or a group of people that they report to at national level? Is there a scrutiny process? Is that information published?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

On grant funding, we launched our new array of grants in February. The main ones is the warmer home scheme, which is fully 100% funded. That takes into account of whatever the current market costs are. The other schemes, the generation schemes, are demand-led. There is the community energy grant scheme which we talked a bit about here and the one-stop shop, OSS, and the better energy home scheme. The OSS and better energy home scheme have aligned in grant levels. Those grant levels were set late last year after they were quantity surveyed. We looked at the cost in the market and at the existing schemes. We did a lot of work with behavioural economics, quantity surveyor, QS, costs and the market to set the grant levels. The Deputy rightly identified that the situation has changed and rapidly with the cost of living and particularly around the energy sector especially after the war in Ukraine. Recognising that when the schemes were launched, we put in 80% grant levels for attic and cavity insulation which is a very significant level of funding to address those who may not qualify for the warmer home scheme but who have smaller disposable income. That was specifically included to get a relatively affordable measure that could be delivered quickly and adds value to the person's home.

The SEAI does participate in the energy security emergency group and we are working on a vulnerable households scheme. We are working with groups such as the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, to see how we can target those people best but there already have been efforts with the SECs. I will ask Ms Buggie to outline that SEC work.

Ms Ruth Buggie

We must recognise that the SECs are volunteers who do not get paid for the work they do. We offer a whole host of training courses that people can participate in either through their mentor or directly online with ourselves. We hope that a few of those will come out soon. We also host things like energy clinics where people can drop in with any queries they have. One of our communities set up something they called Watt Watchers. It is a bit like Weight Watchers but you come in with your energy bill and understand how to reduce your watt usage each month to try and overcome the challenges of people not understanding their bill or what to expect when they get their next bill. We do a lot of education around that side of it to help people to address the concerns they may have. That local conversation around energy questions that people have and giving advice is there. I believe we participated in a recent campaign around energy saving opportunities in light of the recent price increases. We have upgraded the level of information through a new booklet to help people as well. They are all freely available through our communities and through any other sources or events that we participate in. We are very conscious that the change has come in people's minds about the challenges that will face us in the coming winter.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

On generating awareness, we had a significant demand-generation campaign to build a general level of awareness for entering retrofitting schemes. We updated our website so that it is user-friendly. Much of our literature, if not all, is produced in plain English so it can attract wider audiences. We are about to go to tender for a process of community based social marketing, which will be about engaging with communities in local areas to further generate demand for the schemes.

Mr. Robert Deegan

Our colleagues from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage could not be here today, as the Chair mentioned earlier, but they did give us some information pertaining to Deputy Cronin's question. Local authorities delivered a little over 1,000 retrofits last year to a B2 level. The ambition was to deliver 2,400 but the construction shut-down as a result of Covid-19 affected the output. The target for this year is 3,000 homes across the country. A budget of €85 million has been provided for that.

On oversight and decisions, my understanding is that decision is made at local level by local authorities. There is oversight, however, by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in terms of the houses that are retrofitted. All that information would be returned to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

There is a report and there will be information at national level on that.

Mr. Robert Deegan

That was certainly the case previously; I presume it is the same now. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will be able to confirm that for definite, but in previous years the local authorities had to provide the addresses of the houses retrofitted to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage as part of the drawdown process.

To confirm a point, it is the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage that will be accountable for evaluating the local authority climate plans, not the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. Is that-----

Ms Justina Corcoran

The legislation goes so far as to state that the local authorities must have the climate action plans developed and in place by the end of 2023. It does not go any further than that. Whatever comes out of that will be a policy decision for-----

Therefore, we do not look to Ms Corcoran's Department but to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Ms Justina Corcoran

Not necessarily. It is not mentioned in the legislation, but the matter would more than likely not fall to our Department.

Perhaps we should see to that gap. As for community initiatives generally, it seems to me that shared vehicles and, as we have discussed, EV chargers for people who do not have access to them are the coming piece of community initiative. Have the witnesses started to shape a framework for that? It would make such a difference to the way we plan our cities and so on if, outside apartment blocks, instead of one vehicle for every block, people had shared access to a pool of vehicles. Are the witnesses starting on that? Would they consider something like a bronze, silver and gold system for the sustainable energy communities, SECs, to put a little pressure on them to aspire beyond bronze level to gold and to demonstrate their impact on climate change?

My last question relates to the community fund. Dr. Byrne mentioned that it was €750 million. Are the witnesses developing a framework for that? That is a very powerful tool that could either retard or accelerate climate change. Have the witnesses started to create a framework as to what that should look like in order that the funding does not just get handed out willy-nilly to projects that are not relevant to the overall effort?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I will take the Deputy's last two questions. The community bronze, silver and gold system would be a very good initiative in driving people on to try to aspire for more. We are trying to catalyse the community programmes, as we have discussed during the course of the meeting. My colleague, Ms Buggie, wants to talk about that, and my colleague, Mr. Fox, might talk about the community benefit fund and some of our mechanics around that. Perhaps he will also touch on the framework in that regard.

Ms Ruth Buggie

As for the bronze, silver and gold system of recognition of communities, there is a community award within the SEAI award categories each year, but it would be great within the network itself. We see Tidy Towns, for example, as a very successful model to copy the best of to recognise communities as they progress through the programme. We will take Deputy Bruton's comments on board. We are trying to find a way to recognise the communities and their delivery on the various programmes in which they are interested. We appreciate the suggestion and will work on it.

Mr. Andy Fox

As for the community benefit funds to which Deputy Bruton referred, each RESS project has to contribute €2 per megawatt hour it produces. That is across commercial and community projects. That will apply also to the offshore renewable energy when it comes online. We have a set of terms and conditions that go with that, developed by our colleagues in the Department, for onshore RESS, which stipulates how that funding can be spent. There is a significant drive towards supporting the UN sustainable development goals, specifically calling out climate adaptation and education as some of the key elements of that. There is a percentage allocation of those funds that has to be spent towards that, and there are caps as to what can be spent in other areas. Our role is to maintain the national register of that process so, as each individual project comes online, it will register through us and we will then maintain an annual reporting cycle and measure its compliance with those terms and conditions.

Does anyone wish to take my question about the community initiative in respect of shared vehicles and facilities that would accelerate our decarbonisation of travel?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I will so as not to leave a hanging end. I think the initiative is there. It is a complex piece of work. We have colleagues in the SEAI who are doing a lot of work with our colleagues in the Department of Transport, particularly on EV charging points. The question is the next generation and where we are moving to. From the point of view of transport, it is not only about replacing internal combustion engines, ICEs, with electric vehicles but also about modal shift and thinking philosophically about how we address transport generally. We are working with our colleagues in the Department of Transport on the grant schemes, EV charging and so on, but that is probably the next part of the thinking process.

It is a job for us.

Is this Fine Gael policy, Deputy Bruton?

Some Green Party people got into trouble for suggesting the same thing a few years ago.

Did they? Ah, well.

I have a question for the SEAI. I am really keen, as is I think everyone else on the committee, when we talk about climate change that we also talk about biodiversity and making sure any actions that are taken to address and to meet our climate targets do not inadvertently impact biodiversity. Yesterday I was contacted by someone asking about swifts and whether they had started migrating back into Ireland yet because they have been quite late this year. There has been a 60% decline in swift numbers over the past 20 years. Someone replied to me privately to say they had got their house retrofitted. Swifts used to live under the eaves of the house, but they got external insulation on it and they do not have swifts any more. Is that something the SEAI takes into account or has the Department even considered it? Is there even a very basic assessment to be done on houses that are retrofitted to ensure that, if they are to be retrofitted to the point that they will impact bat or bird species, alternatives such as swift boxes are provided to those households as part of the retrofitting package? The witnesses were not expecting that question, were they?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I thank the Deputy for the question. I have as much a professional as a personal interest in this area. The number of swifts has declined catastrophically. The number of bird species generally, since the 1970s, has declined catastrophically. The short answer is that it is not something we look at in detail at present. To get into the biology of this, swifts often lose their nests when homes are externally retrofitted but they can rebuild the nests. There is nothing stopping them. There is a really interesting initiative with Birdwatch Ireland I came across, whereby swift boxes are pinned up and aligned over the retrofit. That helps biodiversity. We have to look into this more. As for our current schemes and what we can do, there are bat roofs and so on. They are probably more for heritage buildings. Bats and many other species are protected under the various Wildlife Acts, so certain works cannot be done while there are bats in place. There are probably separate procedures in respect of wildlife regarding heritage buildings, but the Deputy's point is really well made and it is something we will look into.

I would appreciate it if the SEAI would take it into account when looking at this. I have a swift box up and the calling system going like mad, but I think it takes a few years for them to re-establish. It would be great if, as part of the SEAI's policies, it could take that into account.

Next is Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, who is also interested in the birds.

Fair play to Deputy Whitmore for championing swifts. Tidy Towns is playing a great role in surveying and counting swifts and then putting in place new boxes. We have to future-proof for that.

I come back to the RESS 2 scheme and the recent announcement of the provisional list of successful schemes. I am delighted to say that a group in Clonakilty was successful in a 5 MW project. It is very much community-led, driven by the chamber of commerce there, with all dividends from the proceeds generated from the generation of the electricity going back into the community.

Community is very much at the heart of it. The project is still far from being delivered and there are many obstacles to overcome. I am sure many community projects throughout the country will encounter issues with delivery, some of which were alluded to, including cost and the different aspects of it. One of the aspects that has been highlighted by some of the projects is connection to the closest power station. The solar farm might be located in one location but the power station may be located, in some cases, a kilometre away. In most cases, that will require the laying of a cable between the solar farm and the power station using public roads. That brings with it the cost of road cutting, road closure and installation, which adds up to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of euro.

To bring it back to local authorities and how we can help them out, is there any way, to help the final delivery of the scheme, either SEAI or the Department would help out communities through them? They could do so by compensating local authorities for waiving, for example, road closure fees, which can be quite expensive. Could they help out with the cost of laying the cable, especially where it is a community-driven and community-led project? That particular project in Clonakilty is phenomenal because 5 MW is the energy use of Clonakilty and the surrounding area in the summer months. On certain days in the summer, we could meet the power needs of the entire town through this renewable energy source that will, in essence, take the town off-grid, which is the future. Can local authorities be helped out by the waiving of fees for road closures etc.?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

My colleague, Mr. Fox, will comment on that.

Mr. Andy Fox

There are a couple of aspects to this. One of the things we have just put online is a grant programme for communities who are developing these RESS-scale projects. However, that grant programme basically gets them from concept up to pre-construction. It then moves into a different form. Once they go into the construction programme it goes out of our system, so they have to go and get financing for that. The works the Deputy is looking at are the next phase after our grant system. We are not covering that as part of our process. As far as what the local authority can do-----

Is it something that could be looked at? When there are road closures, local authorities always charges road closure fees. It is a very important source of income for them but when projects are very important and sustainable, and where emissions are being drastically reduced and the carbon footprint is being reduced, could the Department consider a scheme whereby local authorities would be compensated for waiving road closure fees and, therefore, make the projects far more viable?

Ms Gillian Baker

It is certainly a point worth noting that we should look at community projects in a different light. This is a new scheme that communities are involved in. Issues like this have cropped up and it would be good to collaborate with the various public stakeholders to see how best we can address them. The different local authorities take different approaches to community projects, whether they view them as commercial or not-for-profit entities, and treat them differently in terms of development bonds and levies. If we come together and get all the stakeholders involved, we can put some good policies in place to address these issues. Given this is relatively new, it is an involvement piece that will come in time. Clonakilty is doing a fantastic job. It is spearheading this so it would be great to see the project developed.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

These are difficult projects because they involve community groups that are not used to this. There are many speed bumps on the journey. One of the learnings we have taken, for example, in the development of our one-stop shop schemes is to take that design thinking outside-in approach. Oftentimes we put in regulations, schemes and rules, and that works in certain scenarios, but for other scenarios we have to turn them on their head and ask what we need to undo or do to make them happen rather than regulate them. Taking that type of approach to the RESS is what we are about when we work with the Department. My two colleagues and myself are only at front-end of it in that we have seven applicants in the first auction and are making our way through that process. As of last Friday, we have another nine successful candidates that are also making their way through the process. As I said in the opening statement, SEAI has always prided itself on being innovative, creative and working with communities so we will certainly take the Deputy's point on board.

This has all been very interesting. I have a couple of quick questions. When I speak to the SECs they are waiting for a new fund, the local energy action fund, LEAF, which will do the divil and all. Will the witnesses give an update on enabling and empowering the SECs and that competitive piece regarding delivery? Will they give an update on LEAF? Are there ongoing discussions? What will it look like? Will it serve any or all of those purposes?

Mr. Somers made a point about the restriction to 1% ring-fencing for the community RESS. Is that a recent development? I did not pick up on the exact point he made. Was that the initial restriction when the State made the case for an exemption? Will he touch on that point again? Is there scope to go beyond the 1% or is it the case that an alternative model might be more appropriate? I ask him to speak to that point regarding the successful projects now under RESS. Are they all coming through that process of SEC to engagement with SEAI to RESS? Is it a successful path? Ms Baker might have a perspective on that.

My final question is for the departmental officials. EnergyCloud is a group that has made representations, and presented in the audiovisual room here, a possible model to do a number of things, including making use of waste wind energy and engaging with local authority tenants on that piece around making use of digital technology and smart technology. There are many potential benefits to it, from a bottom-up perspective, in addition to reducing waste. Is it something the Department is actively engaged in, considering and pursuing?

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

I am looking at my departmental colleagues. I will start and they can add up-----

It is what Dr. Byrne is hoping and what is the reality.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

The question reflects some of the earlier debate when we talked about learn, plan and do. As I said, we have been taking a hard look at the "do" phase and what is and is not helping people. The community energy grant scheme is there. Members asked whether professionals are bringing those projects together, which they are. We have identified, in effect, and to all intents and purposes, a gap in the market between the "plan" and the "do". The CEGs might be just a little above reach for some of these sustainable energy communities, hence the idea of the LEAF project, which is an intermediate step between the "do" and community energy grants. We have had some interactions and a number of discussions with the Department on developing the scheme, and figuring out exactly what it should like, and where it should it land and for whom. I will ask my colleagues, either Ms Buggie or a departmental official, to make further comments on that.

Ms Ruth Buggie

I am happy to let Mr. Deegan lead, if that is okay.

Mr. Robert Deegan

I could not put it better myself. We understand. We have heard the same issues. Senator Boylan talked about the very complex application process that is very off-putting for smaller community groups and there are capacity issues. The national retrofit plan commits to the introduction of a new stream or strand under the CEG scheme for smaller projects, primarily focused on homes, but we are also working out the details of what other elements of community buildings could be included. These are for much smaller projects and involve much smaller amounts.

The level of governance and administration and the application process would obviously be tailored to align with the smaller amounts of money involved. That is in the works at the moment. We are working with our colleagues in the SEAI on that.

When can we expect a decision?

Mr. Robert Deegan

Unfortunately, the retrofit plan commits to this quarter. We are working intensively to ensure delivery on time.

Ms Gillian Baker

I might respond on the RESS. Each renewable energy community project that competes in the RESS auction community must be a sustainable energy community. We have seen different levels of expertise in each of those communities and we have responded to their requirements. Some have requested more support from us than others. There was also the policy change from RESS 1 to RESS 2 where in RESS 1 communities were able to partner with a developer and they would have provided much of the driving force and expertise along with the balance sheets. RESS 2 makes a welcome policy change to be 100% community owned so they reap all the benefits, but it presents challenges.

We have been developing the community-enabling framework to respond to those increased needs. We have our trusted advisers to guide them along every step of the development process, including assisting with feasibility assessments. We also have a robust suite of grants available to communities. These were just launched earlier this year and so the real benefits will be seen for subsequent projects that move into RESS 3 and RESS 4.

Mr. Rory Somers

Regarding the RESS and the community pot, the long-term aim of RESS is to deliver a large amount of large-scale renewable generation and to follow EU policy by being delivered at the lowest cost. That is typically done in a competitive commercial environment. In granting approval for the community pot, the European Commission limited the scope of the state aid for the community ring-fenced pot to 1% over the course of the RESS approval. I stress that the RESS approval was up to 2025. For the RESS to progress beyond that, a further assessment would be required. The state aid approval that follows subsequent auctions within the period after that could have different rules under revised state aid approval.

As I said earlier, the CEEAG eclipsed the original RESS state-aid approach on the basis that those community projects of between 0.5 MW and 5 MW that are allowed for within RESS today had to be in a competitive environment when RESS was approved. They no longer need to be. That is where it is possible for them to be taken out of the competitive environment and it is then up to the Department to decide what support arrangements are appropriate. I mentioned that the small-scale generation scheme, which would be a different mechanism and a guaranteed feed-in tariff, is one possible way of filling that gap.

If we look at the continuum of what we are trying to do from a policy perspective, it is important to recognise that as was mentioned earlier we started with one project in one location which took ten years to come to fruition and very much community led fully delivered by the local community efforts and funding. We really need to move forward bringing communities through the phases of development.

RESS has provided the first opportunity for that. We anticipate that those successful RESS 1 projects as entities could continue to produce second and third projects in subsequent auctions. When they become scaled community entities in their own right, they no longer need to be ring-fenced. They become experienced and ought to become efficient and competitive in their own right and no longer need the benefit of a ring-fenced community pot. That is a long-term aim. It will take a number of years to achieve. That assumes they are fairly large projects. We have another route. Microgeneration is the local community self-consumption model. Small-scale generation is the bit in between which marries the ability for small-scale generators to do it primarily for self-consumption but also creates an avenue for them to participate without getting into a competitive environment.

I had a question on EnergyCloud.

Mr. Rory Somers

I might take that question. Regarding smart technologies and digitisation, the Deputy will be aware that there are 750,000 smart meters. We believe that smart meters are a key enabling infrastructure to allow for the digitisation of the energy transition. In the first instance, they provide people with quick information on their own energy consumption. That allows them to make behavioural change to reduce their energy consumption and to get the benefit of that through their bills. That is just a pricing behavioural change. They can then move their consumption patterns and change their consumption equipment to use less energy and be more energy efficient by moving off peak, which brings a benefit to the overall grid. They can be incentivised to do that. The way that incentive works is that the time-of-use and volume-of-use change of behaviour is recompensed from their energy supplier through lower off-peak tariffs and also specifically through load-shifting demand-response services that they can offer into the market.

From a renewable generation perspective, we are obviously talking about people not only consuming electricity and electrifying the consumption of energy by moving from fossil fuel heating systems to heat pumps and from fossil fuel combustion engine cars to electrified mobility but also about generation. When they become prosumers, they are generating their own electricity for their own self-consumption and they can then sell that electricity on the grid. On 15 February the Minister signed the regulations which transpose those articles of the recast renewable energy directive that allow and provide an obligation for suppliers to remunerate those prosumers for any electricity they export to the grid at the market value for that electricity.

Given that the market value is quite high at the moment, it might seem a glib statement but the one upside to high wholesale energy prices is that those people who are selling electricity onto the grid are getting considerably more for it today - and will get paid for it by the beginning of July onwards - than they would have done 12 months ago. That makes the business case for investing in renewable technology so much better. By self-consuming, people are avoiding the cost of the retail price of electricity for consumers. They can then get additional remuneration to pay back the investment by exporting the electricity they cannot consume themselves, the residual, and get paid at the market value of that electricity.

Does Mr. Deegan wish to comment on the EnergyCloud proposition, namely, the social enterprise of linking industry with an approved housing body to try to support people to get out of energy poverty? I am not sure if he is familiar with the proposition.

Mr. Robert Deegan

I have heard of the organisation. It is a very interesting development. There have been some recent discussions with the Department. I think we are just monitoring at the moment. It presents great opportunities as Mr. Somers described at reusing waste energy to target low-income households and make life a bit easier for them.

The Department should explore that opportunity.

I wish to ask Mr. Somers about smart meters. While 750,000 have been installed, they are not providing real-time information to households. In Germany people get real time updates suggesting that now might be a good time to put on a dryer or washing machine. I have a smart meter and I do not know what its benefit is because all I can do is request at the end of the day what my energy usage was. I have queried this with the CRU. Should the Department insist we have dynamic tariffs, as opposed to just on-peak and off-peak tariffs? My understanding of some of the off-peak tariffs is that people need to wait until midnight and run their washing machines at night, but it is not good advice for anybody to be switching on electrical appliances going to bed. We need to have those dynamic tariffs to make the smart meters effective and do what they should be doing.

Otherwise, it would seem to be just a refurbishment of the current metering system. Is the Department's role to instruct the CRU to instruct the electricity providers that they need to start offering dynamic tariffs? I refer to the ESB as well, in respect of the need for households to have real-time information to enable them to engage in the decarbonisation process and to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Turning to the community local energy action fund, LEAF, have we an indication of what budget will be allocated to it? It would be handy if that information were available. On the small-scale electricity generation scheme, people showed great interest in applying for it when it opened initially. My understanding is that it was shut down and it was stated there would be a public consultation process. Is there a timeline for when we are going to move from that phase to allowing more people to opt into this programme?

Mr. Rory Somers

The smart metering programme is a large-scale infrastructure project to replace all the electricity meters in Ireland by the end of 2024 or early 2025. It involves more than €1 billion of investment with 2.3 million meters to be replaced. Therefore, it will take time to implement. The programme commenced in 2019. As the Senator pointed out, some 750,000 smart meters have been installed already. Each month, some 40,000 meters are installed. By the end of this year, the project is on target to have installed 1.1 million smart meters, which will be approximately half of all electricity consumers, certainly domestic consumers. Returning to the seminar with the Commission, this puts us ahead of many European member states. Some large countries have fully rolled out their electricity smart meter programmes, but a greater number of member states have done no work in smart metering. Therefore, we are relatively well advanced.

The programme is managed by the CRU and ESB Networks is involved in the delivery of the meters themselves. The CRU is an independent regulator. I probably do not need to explain that the Department's role is never to instruct the CRU. It has statutory power and obligations. We do, however, work closely with the CRU on the national smart metering programme and we receive regular updates in that regard. Specifically on the question of tariffs, there is an obligation on all suppliers now to provide at least one standard smart tariff. Typically, this is a day-night peak tariff. In the context of tariffs as well, though, Ireland has been operating time-of-use tariffs for more than 30 years in the context of day-night meters. It is a well-established pattern in Ireland that people have been incentivised to move in this way and to shift from peak times. My understanding, and I could stand corrected on this point, is that this off-peak time runs from 11 p.m.-----

These would be dynamic tariffs, similar to what is in Germany, whereby people would get a notification on their phones to inform them that a certain time would be a good one to use a large appliance. The problem with it starting at 11 p.m. is that the fire brigade and other organisations concerned with fire safety are advising people not to switch on large devices when they are going to bed, and this is the time when most people would be going to bed, if they had not gone already.

Mr. Rory Somers

Yes, but we need to be a little careful of the language here. Dynamic tariffs in a European sense are those tariffs that are reflective of changes in the wholesale market. A recent report from the EU's Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, ACER, on the experience of this type of tariff in Spain, where more than 1 million customers had been moved to dynamic tariffs, showed it had been a good system for those people when electricity prices were low, because they had benefited. As soon as electricity prices started to increase during the recent crisis, however, the customers on the dynamic tariff were exposed to the full market costs associated with those tariffs. It was quite a shock for many people. Therefore, there are many lessons to be learned around dynamic tariffs.

I think what the Senator was referring to, though, in the language we use, is "demand response", which is where messages are sent to end users to do particular things to deal with a specific and short-term benefit they can provide to the system. This is something the Department is certainly working on with the CRU. It does require the infrastructure of the smart meter system to be fully deployed. At the moment, there is a smart meter change in respect of the IT systems and a market settlement solution that goes with that. All the information gathered by those meters is sent back to the central database hub. ESB Networks then has the ability to share that information with suppliers on behalf of those end consumers who have registered with smart meters. That then allows the suppliers to be able to offer different tariff arrangements and different time-of-use tariffs and the type of dynamic pricing that the Senator referred to. This system is due to be implemented on 27 June. This is the latest information we have. We are therefore on the cusp of achieving this outcome in respect of the critical mass of smart meters we have available in Ireland. We will reach a stage where 50% of them have been installed by the end of this year. In that context, some 30,000 people have moved over to smart tariffs with a day-night peak. It is a small number of people as a percentage of the 750,000 meters deployed.

An initiative in this regard is under way involving the CRU and suppliers. I have seen recent adverts in the media promoting the use of smart meters. This is being done in the context of smart tariffs and the benefit those can yield to consumers on costs when we now have high electricity prices and people are struggling with their energy bills. It also, however, involves benefits for the system itself. From there, it will be another step forward for suppliers to react to the availability of all these data and offer tariffs not for products, but in respect of moving into the dynamic sphere of electricity pricing.

A good message we need to remember is that this is a complex area. As much as we do our very best to make this accessible to the end consumer, even professional energy services companies struggle with the complexities in the market and how much dynamic shifting there is in pricing and how that can create risks for them. There is no intention here to try to expose end consumers to any of these risks. Therefore, it is extremely important that we get clear messages out to people regarding whether participating will be something that will change their ability to sit back and relax and depend on fixed tariffs, as opposed to having to be careful about entering into commitments that will expose them to the market.

The CRU said it will react to Government and Departmental policy. That is not instructing the CRU, per se, but the policy in this regard is concerned with creating a situation where it will be possible - whether this is called "dynamic pricing" or not, we both understand the same meaning in this regard - for real-time information to allow flexibility in households. This is the Department's position regarding where we wish to get to. Is this correct?

Mr. Rory Somers

Yes. It is EU policy as much as Government policy. Provision for dynamic tariffs is also made in the directive on the internal markets for electricity. Legislation is in place to support this concept, so we are aligned with the EU in this regard.

Okay. I thank Mr. Somers.

Dr. Ciaran Byrne

Regarding the Senator's last question on the LEAF project, approximately €8 million has been allocated.

I will address one final question to Mr. Somers. He touched on it already and it concerns the constraint imposed by the state aid rules. If I heard him correctly, the rules might constrain the scaling-up of the community energy sector. Will Mr. Somers talk us through this to allow us to understand exactly what is meant in this regard?

Mr. Rory Somers

The communities are protected within the conditions under the renewable energy support scheme, RESS, in respect of how they access the scheme. They are not asked to compete in the same overall category as professional commercial developers for large-scale renewables. Communities are also given certain conditions that make it easier for them. There are benefits in respect of planning and the grid. They do not have to provide a bid or performance bond, as is required in the commercial sphere. Therefore, several factors make it easier for them to compete. On that basis, the Commission did not want that to impact on, and, ultimately, be a backdoor for commercial developers, to interfere in the full and competitive nature of the auction. This is the nature of the Commission's view around restrictions in this context.

The way this is managed in respect of the overall policy results in the limitation of the total amount of energy we can procure through this community pot in the various auctions. What it does not do is to prevent us doing other things outside the RESS. That was the first vehicle devised in this regard. As I mentioned, regarding microgeneration, at the very small scale, that is now beginning to be deployed.

The small-scale generation support scheme, which will go to public consultation later this year and which we intend to implement early in 2023, will provide another vehicle for the communities to develop. Within the climate action plan, the Chairman may be aware that there is a target of 500 MW by 2030 for community projects overall. That is not specific to RESS but it will include it. We are trying to provide as many pathways as possible for communities to engage. That can be seen through the range of supports that are there. The communities are involved at every level, which is what I am really saying here. They are involved in dealing with the community operation of sports and committee buildings, retrofitting and renewable technologies. They are also involved in RESS and in 100%-owned renewable projects. We are providing a pathway to bridge the gap between all of that for renewable technologies.

I thank Mr Somers and that explains it. On the 500 MW, the climate action plan is revisable every year so if we are off ,track we can get back on track. Does the constraint of state aid rules apply to the 500 MW mentioned? I know that it is not up to that level on the RESS but are we constrained by the European Commission there?

Mr. Rory Somers

Is the Chairman asking me to clarify if we can go higher than 500 MW?

Mr. Rory Somers

We have to be careful not to put too much pressure on the community sector because it is a very difficult road to navigate. We can set targets but we are also in the business of delivering on those targets. One project in County Tipperary went from 5 MW to 500 MW in ten years, which is a very substantial delivery. We are used to the targets being increased, year by year, and have had that from Climate Action Plan 2019 to Climate Action Plan 2021 so I would never rule it out. We need to ensure that the message is actually about providing the correct pathways for communities to get involved.

That is a fair point. I believe that is all the questions we have. I thank our guests sincerely for coming in and for such thorough answers. I am aware that we ranged across different areas and there were plenty of questions that were not related to the agenda but we will let that go this time. I also thank members for their contributions and input.

I believe we have three more sessions in this series and we will then produce a report sometime around, perhaps, mid-summer and we will try to capture some of the key issues that we feel that the Government needs to be pressed on.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.53 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 31 May 2022.