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Departmental Schemes

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 1 June 2021

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Ceisteanna (70)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

70. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will consider expanding the better energy warmer homes scheme to include households that previously benefited from insulation grants but do not meet the required building energy rating, BER; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29207/21]

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Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Environment)

I wish to ask the Minister about the better energy warmer homes scheme. Will he expand the scheme to include households that previously benefited from the insulation grants but do not meet the required BER, in particular houses with solid wall construction that under previous iterations of schemes could not be insulated and just saw their attics done. Now that external wall insulation is part of a grant scheme, can we look at inviting people in these houses back into the scheme?

I thank Deputy Canney for his question. The better energy warmer homes scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low-income households who are vulnerable to energy poverty. In order to qualify for support, applicants must own and live in their home, which must have been built and occupied before 2006, and must be in receipt of certain social welfare payments. To date, over 143,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme. In 2020 the average value of the energy efficiency measures provided per household was over €14,800.

There are nearly 8,000 homes on the warmer homes scheme work programme. These homes have not previously received any free upgrades under the scheme and for that reason are the priority to receive upgrades. Recommendations on the implementation of changes to the scheme to better target those most in need are being developed and I anticipate that they will be finalised shortly.

It is important to note that I have secured additional resources this year to expand the capacity of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, to deliver the scheme. Funding for the energy poverty retrofit schemes has also increased to over €109 million in 2021. This is an increase of €47 million on the 2020 allocation. In addition, delivery capacity has increased due to a new, broader contractor panel that commenced at the end of 2020.

It is a great scheme for the people who need it and who are in energy poverty, but in the review being done it is important we look at households which are still in energy poverty. They are not getting the benefit of the scheme as it is now. I accept that lots of homes have not benefited so far, but it is important we redress the absence of proper insulation in some of the houses. This is nobody's fault but is due to the types of grants that were available in the past and the type of construction of these houses. I welcome the fact that additional resources are being put into the SEAI, but it is important we now expedite the installation process because there are still very long waiting times from the time a person applies for the scheme until even a survey is carried out. The Minister might look at that as well.

I will commit to looking at that. The key issue is that we are looking to get to every single house in the country. That is what we have to do to meet this climate change challenge. Every place matters. We have to go to every community in a systematic way. It will take three decades, with 500,000 houses a decade and 50,000 houses a year reached. That is what we need to do. That is why at the launch of the national economic recovery plan today the message given to people was that we need more than anything else young people to start developing the skills, including the craft skills, that will help us in this work. In truth, one of the biggest obstacles to the ramping up we need to do is the shortage of skilled carpenters, plumbers, plasterers and builders to be able to do this work. That is the first, most immediate and biggest constraint. We are spending a lot of money not just on the warmer homes scheme - about €100 million, as I said, to tackle fuel poverty - but also on social housing. That is another area where we need to ramp it up. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has scaled up that budget. We will not give up on this. It will have to be consistent year in and year out to get every home that way, as Deputy Canney rightly said we need to do.

I thank the Minister. I agree with all the sentiments he has expressed regarding the importance of this issue. It is one of those areas where we can make a huge difference to people's lives and at the same time save a lot on energy and make sure that people's homes are warmer and better places for them to live in. An issue arising now, as the contractors will tell one, is that the cost of materials, including insulation material, is growing as a result of a lack of supply of certain materials to make the product. It is important we keep an eye on this, spend the allocations from the budgets the Government has set and which the Department has successfully got from central government, and get as many houses done as possible with those allocations. I welcome the fact that social housing is being included. This is a huge undertaking. Coming from a construction background, I understand there is a huge shortage of skills, but we need to keep focused and make sure we do not leave behind these houses that had got some but not all of the benefits of previous schemes.

It is true what the Deputy says about the supply chain. Across a range of different sectors what we are seeing as a result of the pandemic is disruption to global supply chains. It is very real and is occurring in the construction sector as well as other sectors. It is adding to inflationary pressures, which is a real difficulty. We have to hope and expect that, as the economy returns to some sort of normal, the vaccines are rolled out and people are able to get the supply lines working better again, that short-run cost inflation will be temporary. The Irish industry has been good at this. We raised the planning and building regulations standards in 2007 and 2008, I recall, when we were in government. I remember talking a few years later to someone from Enterprise Ireland who said that that had led to a transformation in the supply chain of Irish companies which had good-quality insulation. Our standards at that time were higher than those in the UK and elsewhere. We ended up being an exporting country for a lot of such material. It is not just jobs in the construction sector; I think we can create jobs in the supply lines, where we have good companies, and that with the 30-year supply chain we can get the cost down and get the industry built up.

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