Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions (16)

Brian Stanley


16. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of homes planned to be insulated and retrofitted by 2030; and the support that will be offered to households. [28309/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Deputy Stanley is hitting the jackpot this morning with questions.

I have the place to myself. Normally, I get in only one priority question with the rest falling at the back. My question is to ask the Minister how many homes the Department intends to insulate and see retrofitted by 2030. What kind of State support will be made available in that regard?

The recently published climate action plan sets an ambitious target of 500,000 energy efficiency retrofits by 2030. Achievement of this target will be supported by a Project Ireland 2040 allocation of €3 billion as well as the range of measures identified in the plan. One such measure is the development of a new retrofitting delivery model which will group retrofitting projects together to achieve economies of scale, leverage private finance and ensure easy pay-back methods. Savings on electricity bills from using less energy will help to fund repayments while homes will be warmer and produce lower levels of emissions. Other relevant initiatives identified in the plan include: the introduction of improvements to the BER certificate to provide more guidance to homeowners; the development of interactive tools and reports for homeowners to identify the impact of energy efficiency upgrades; an expansion of the pilot salary incentive scheme for energy efficiency upgrades; the identification of options for the financing of energy upgrades such as green mortgages; an assessment of the potential for energy suppliers to pilot a pay-as-you-save mechanism and on-bill finance; and enhanced delivery models and supports for households with lower incomes.

The primary current support for retrofitting is the programme of grant schemes funded by my Department and operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Since 2000, more than 400,000 homes have received direct support under these schemes to improve their energy efficiency. This year, I have allocated €85 million to the schemes. The climate action plan commits to reviewing and redesigning these grant schemes to ensure alignment with Government objectives and value for money.

The reply refers to the retrofitting of 500,000 homes by 2030, which is a significant and welcome target. The problem, however, is that I received a previous reply from the Department which stated that over a three-year period, 305 homes benefitted from deep retrofitting grants provided by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which is a minuscule number in the context of what we are trying to do. I flag that to the Minister. It is a fantasy to say we will retrofit 500,000 homes if we are only doing 100 homes a year now. Even if we were to retrofit 10,000 homes a year, it would take until 2069 to get to 500,000. That is the scale of the challenge we face.

Support schemes are one thing, but I highlight to the Minister also the issue of apprenticeships and training. In his current role and in his former role as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton has told me the private sector was not taking up apprenticeship and training schemes. We accept that. The question is what we do about it as a State. We must intervene to get the skills in place. They are not there in the building industry at the moment.

I acknowledge the Deputy's support for the action plan. It is a significant target at 50,000 per year whereas the current rate is 34,000 per year, approximately. As the Deputy says, rightly, retrofitting takes place currently at a lower level. These are shallower retrofittings. To be fair, the deep retrofitting scheme was a pilot and was never intended to constitute the final approach. As I indicated in my reply, we will have to design a different model to hit the proposed targets. The current model envisages people coming forward on an individual or small-group basis to commit to an investment of €30,000 in return for a 50% grant. We must look at bundling larger areas, better contracts, better tendering for blocks of work and more effective delivery.

I agree with the Deputy that the action plan represents a major opportunity to develop new skills and a new sector. I envisage that the retrofitting sector will be worth at least a €1 billion to €1.5 billion. While that is approximately 5% of the construction sector overall, it will nonetheless be important and we will have to develop new apprenticeships and skills within it. Part of the development of the new delivery model will be about ensuring the supply chain is capable of achieving the targets. As the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, said, we will be looking to the education and training boards to support the delivery of that supply chain with new traineeships and apprenticeships. We will also see new companies getting involved in this to support the supply chain.

On skills, I highlight to the Minister the Mount Lucas training centre run by the Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board. The potential exists to expand that centre, which is geographically located in the middle of the country. I asked questions about the centre seven years ago, at which stage fewer than 20 people went through it in one year. According to a reply to a parliamentary question I submitted recently, the numbers have now increased with 120 people undertaking training in specialist building skills at the centre last year. Enrolment must be accelerated and the potential exists to develop that. I flag that to the Minister to be helpful. I would like to see that development take place given that the centre is in the midlands in the Laois-Offaly area where jobs are needed. The centre is located near Edenderry and Daingean and the site of the old briquette factory and, as such, it fits in with the just transition we have been talking about.

We need to continue with shallow retrofitting also. Many houses in the State are still single-glazed and have pre-2006 attic insulation. There are even some houses with no insulation. That low-hanging fruit needs to be picked. Some such households are in the lowest income bracket and are experiencing fuel poverty. I ask that they receive attention.

I agree with the Deputy. Group and area-based schemes will allow us to carry out those shallow retrofits as they will offer people an easy, turnkey process by which to do so. I assure the Deputy that not only did I visit Mount Lucas as Minister for Education and Skills, but I have also visited in my new role. I fully acknowledge its potential. It is a fantastic centre. Great things are happening there not only in the area of training, but also in the area of piloting new sustainable options for Bord na Móna. I see it becoming a very significant player in the development of a supply chain. It is good to see that the midlands regional enterprise strategy has made developing opportunities in the decarbonised economy a key priority for the development of the region.

We will move on to Question No. 17, which - you guessed it - is again in the name of Deputy Stanley.

The Deputy had better play the lotto today.

It normally works out badly for me.