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Energy Policy

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Ceisteanna (34, 36)

Colm Burke

Ceist:

34. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if a national retrofitting plan will be accompanied by additional supports in order to assist households with the cost of retrofitting their homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61308/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

36. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the position on a national retrofitting plan for households, particularly older housing stock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61550/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Environment)

Will the Minister and the Department consider providing additional supports to assist households with the cost of retrofitting their homes alongside the national retrofitting plan? I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 36 together.

The national retrofit plan, published last month as part of the climate action plan, set ambitious targets to retrofit 500,000 homes to a building energy rating of B2 or carbon equivalent and to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings by the end of 2030. These targets represent a significant increase in the volume and depth of retrofit activity in Ireland.

The national retrofit plan is designed to address barriers to retrofit across four key areas. These are: driving demand and activity; financing and funding; supply chain, skills and standards; and governance. The initiatives outlined in the plan will cover all housing types and consumer segments. This includes a commitment to develop a new guidance document on retrofitting older homes built before 1940.

SEAI grant schemes will continue to be a central element of the Government's strategy to encourage homeowners to retrofit their homes. A new national retrofit scheme will be launched early next year which will focus on the delivery of B2 retrofits with heat pumps as well as the development and expansion of the one-stop shop and retrofit market.

The plan provides an unprecedented €8 billion in Exchequer funding to support homeowners to upgrade their homes through SEAI retrofit schemes, including free energy upgrades for households at risk of energy poverty. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will also provide additional funding for the local authority retrofit scheme. This is in line with the principles of fairness and universality which underpin the plan.

My Department is also engaging with the Department of Finance and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland on the development of a residential retrofit loan guarantee scheme. This will enable credit institutions to offer loans with reduced interest rates to private homeowners and non-corporate landlords to make comprehensive home energy efficiency upgrades more affordable to consumers. The target for the introduction of the loan guarantee scheme is mid-2022.

Only 18% of Irish homes secured a building energy rating, BER, of B3 or higher in 2019. A great deal of work needs to be done in this area. We also have an additional problem now in that the cost of all building materials has increased dramatically. Have we sufficient supports in place at this stage? I am aware the Minister of State is talking about further announcements later on in 2022 but we are talking about 500,000 houses being retrofitted by 2030? There are issues about the skill set, the number of people to do this work and I am not sure if we have done enough detailed planning in this area. Can the Minister of State outline what plans are to be put in place over the next number of months to deal with this issue?

I agree with Deputy Burke. It is very important that we prioritise this area. All one has to do is to go on any property website, including daft.ie, to see the amount of stock there which are BER C, BER D, BER E, BER F or BER G. I refer to many of the houses I would have called to, although not many in the last two years but prior to that, particularly the older housing stock of older people who are living in very poorly insulated houses. This has to be a priority and we have to give people an option to avail of grants and loans so that when they are repaying the money, they are repaying money that they would otherwise be spending on fossil fuels and are now paying towards their insulation and warmer home, which ultimately they will be able to stop paying. This cannot come quickly enough.

We have to have a labour force to be able to do this but can the Minister of State speak to the level of research that has been done on the potential for wool to be used in insulation? We know that we have a very significant sheep industry here. I called for research to be done on this and there is potential there.

I will start with Deputy Griffin. On wool insulation, I can say that I know absolutely nothing about that and I will get a proper answer for the Deputy. I will not attempt to answer that without knowing about it.

Turning to Deputy Burke, this is a very significant plan for 500,000 homes and it requires 25,000 staff. A very significant amount of planning went into this even before the programme for Government was drawn up last year by the Green Party, the Government and the former Minister, Deputy Bruton’s Department, which had been investigating how to do this. There are some 25,000 people involved with a €28 billion investment, €8 billion of which was to come from the Exchequer. It is an enormous project and a great deal of work has been done with the Minister, Deputy Harris, to ensure we have a sufficient number of apprentices. This is very skilled work and is a completely new way of doing plumbing, in addition to the other work that is being done.

On the issue of inflation, I am working on that with the Office of Government Procurement. Public procurement in general and the whole national development plan are affected by these changes in inflation. That will also affect the retrofit plans.

My real concern is that I was speaking to someone in the past week who submitted their application to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, two years ago. It was only in the past week that the house was inspected. We have something to clear up in that particular area. What plans are being put in place to expedite inspections so that the work can start at an early date?

I concur with Deputy Burke on the need for speed which is really crucial. This has been talked about for so long and the current mechanisms that are there are just not going far enough or doing enough for people.

With the indulgence of the Chair, I wish to flag a matter that has come to my attention tonight. In my constituency, John and Fidelus Foley are well-known pillars in the community in Inch, County Kerry. In a matter related to the Minister of State’s portfolio, a monstrosity of a telecommunications mast has been built today right next to their house. I am asking the Minister of State to intervene with Eir to see if it can find a more suitable location. This is heartbreaking for the family and for the community. It is right next door to their house. It is an emergency situation and it has only arisen today and seems to have slipped through the planning process during Covid-19. It has left the family and community heartbroken. Could the Minister of State please investigate this matter and raise it with Eir as a matter of urgency as it is causing very significant hardship for people and, in particular, the family?

I want to use this opportunity to put a query to the Minister of State that I got through my constituency office from a couple-----

The issue has be related to the question.

It is. This relates to a couple living in Lucan who wish to install a new solar panel system which is coming in at a cost of €9,000. They are hoping to apply for, and are likely to get, the grant for €3,000 towards that. That still leaves a shortfall of €6,000. Would couples like that be eligible for the no-interest loans that the Minister of State is speaking about or is there the opportunity to enhance the schemes of those grants to make these solar panels and renewable energy products more affordable to people?

I will allow Deputy O'Rourke in but if I keep allowing Members in on a discretionary basis, those who are waiting for their questions will not get in. I ask the Deputies to use this facility sparingly. I know that the Deputy has not-----

I will literally be five seconds, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. If the Minister has not got them, can he provide us with the up-to-date figures on the amount of retrofitting that has been actually completed this year?

I will start with Deputy Higgins's question on solar panels. It is envisaged that one portion of the funding is provided through a grant, and another portion, presumably the remainder, through a low-interest loan which is unsecured on the property. That is what the intention of that is and it is to be brought in in the middle of next year.

There was also question on the roll-out and the rate of the delivery of these works. The funding for this increases every year because the money for it comes from the increases in the property tax. There is a constant ratchet effect where more and more homes can be upgraded every year. That allows us to build the capacity of the people who are trained to carry out the retrofits. We are expecting that 22,000 energy upgrades will be carried out over the course of the next year with the money that is available. It is in three slices. There is €85 million for upgrading council houses, €109 million for people who are homeowners but on low-incomes and another €100 million for people who are outside of that, which may presumably address Deputy Higgins’s question.

I will take Deputy Griffin’s question outside of the Chamber, which I think is the right approach because he has contacted me directly.

Deputy O’Rourke’s question was on the number of homes and I have given that answer.

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