Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
The Government has announced a national insulation programme for economic recovery, which is part of our smart economy document. I welcome this announcement. I have done much work on the insulation programme which went through the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, and I am glad that the Minister has now put some money behind it. This is a most important step.
Insulation deals with how we conserve energy in our houses and how we expend energy in our country. It costs us around €6 billion every year to import gas, oil and alternative energy. Anything we can do to make our houses more energy efficient is very important. The Government has now recognised that. This proposal can create between 7,000 and 20,000 jobs, and people will then start to realise what a programme it is. We have a commitment with the EU and under the Kyoto Protocol that we would reduce our CO2 emissions by 2013. If we did not take this action now, we would possibly end up paying about €250 million per year in carbon taxes after 2013. Therefore, this the right action to take.
We are also offering householders a generous contribution if they ensure that their houses are properly insulated. Not only are we providing them with an incentive, they will also save a substantial amount of money every year. Depending on the investment of between €10,000 and €20,000, they could save up to €1,000 every year, which is very substantial. This is also very important to the construction industry at a time of a big downturn. As we know, the construction industry played a major role in the Celtic tiger years, when the turnover in that industry was about €30 billion. In 2008, the renovation section of the construction industry had a turnover of €8.2 billion, even though the downturn had begun at that stage. We believe the new proposals will lead to another increase, from €8.2 billion to almost €10 billion. That will be welcomed by people in the construction industry. Direction and radical thinking are needed in the current economic climate. The insulation programme will save energy and money and create jobs. It will be confirmed that the Government’s assistance is to extend to those in private homes, those on low incomes and those in social housing. It is important to bear in mind that this scheme will not just be of benefit to middle-class people. Some €160 million will be spent across the economy. Some €60 million will be given to local authorities for the upgrading of schools’ insulation systems.
When the insulation and renovation programme has been completed, we will find that it is a small part of what needs to be done in the renewable energy sector as a whole. This proposal has been sanctioned by the Government because it realises that a substantial development needs to be completed. This is just the start of a programme of upgrading almost 1 million houses throughout the country. The programme will involve investment of €9 billion over many years. We should get it up and running as soon as possible. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that takes place. Many people are waiting until March. It is important for the Minister of State to ensure the programme is in operation as soon as possible. No work is being done in the renovation sector because people are waiting until March.
I draw the Minister of State’s attention to the fact that no allowance for double or treble glazing has been made in the programme. That is terribly important because there are many jobs in this area. It should be a key part of everything we do. When an inspector comes to make a building energy rating report, the first thing he does is check whether the house is draught-excluded and airtight. To do that, one must have very efficient windows. No provision has been made for this area in the scheme. It would be worthwhile to make such a provision. It would give this country’s window manufacturers a boost, thereby facilitating job creation, which is what we need. God knows that many jobs have been lost over recent months. When a scheme of this nature is being put in place, it is important to ensure we can get the maximum out of it.
I would like to speak about eligibility for this scheme. The scheme is aimed at older houses, which do not tend to be energy efficient. Such houses featured in the recent new homes scheme. In 2005-06, we increased the insulation requirements for the new housing stock that was being built at that time. The houses in question are very efficient at holding in heat. The best way to describe what we are trying to do is to compare it to putting a thermoflask over one’s house. We are trying to ensure no energy escapes. People need to get the very most out of their energy. Everybody knows that householders are currently spending up to 10% of their money on energy. This is one of the things we are trying to do to help them.
I will run through the various elements of the scheme. An allowance of €250 is available for roof insulation and €400 is available for cavity wall insulation. Some €2,500 is available for internal wall insulation and €4,000 is available for external wall insulation. An allowance of €700 is available in respect of high-efficiency boilers. The heating control and upgrade allowance is worth €500. If one wants to get an inspector to conduct an energy rating on one’s home, one can apply for an allowance of €200. That is a very good scheme. All that is missing is for provision to be made for double glazing. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, to bring that to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Gormley.
First-time applicants who wish to participate in this scheme and avail of building energy rating inspections will be required to make a minimum investment. Such householders will get a minimum grant payment of €500. This means householders cannot qualify for the roof insulation grant, or the cavity wall insulation grant, without also getting other things done. I wish to comment on the figures issued by the Government. In the first year, €100 million will be spent on the——
Senator Larry Butler: I wanted to comment further on some aspects of the scheme. I will use my last minute to speak about the important issue of renewables. I will wrap up quickly. We must encourage the use of renewables. I want the Minister of State to explain how grant aid will be made available in respect of renewables. Micro wind generators and solar energy panels are being developed in this country. A company in County Tipperary is producing a solar energy panel that can deliver electricity to one’s home. That is a good form of renewable energy. Wind operators are also useful. It is terribly important for the smart meter system to be brought into operation. If I had more time, I would speak about such matters as pellet boilers, biomass, thermal energy and low-energy bulbs. If one uses low-energy bulbs exclusively in one’s home, one will save €350 a year. That is a phenomenal amount of money to save just by changing one’s light bulbs. I will respect the Chairman by concluding. It is important we support the scheme under discussion, which will create a substantial number of jobs. It is the start of a major programme that might ultimately be worth €18 billion if we go down the renewables route. We will invest in insulation, of course.
Senator Martin Brady: It gives me great pleasure to second the motion that has been proposed by Senator Butler. I thank the Senator for bringing this matter before the House. I remember he first raised this issue at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. Senator Butler, who has spent most of his life in the building industry, has a vast knowledge of and keen personal interest in this topic. I thank him for the generosity he has shown in taking the time to give his colleagues valuable advice on this subject. Whenever I went to him I was not found wanting. He has done thorough research on it and outlined what is involved in that.
The national insulation programme was launched on 8 February and as Senator Butler said, it involves a three-pronged approach. There will be many beneficial effects for people both inside and outside the industry, suppliers and so on. Senator Butler outlined the number of jobs the programme will create, which is important, and spoke about alternative energy projects such as solar panels. He explained to me on another occasion how that can be done. That will save consumers up to 50% in energy costs.
The public is very aware of the programme. I attended a meeting one night recently at which I distributed hand-outs on the programme. That was the document everybody wanted. There were 70 people at the meeting and I ran out of them. That indicates there is genuine interest in the programme and it has created an awareness among householders of savings on the cost of energy.
We raised the cost of gas with the Minister in the House last week — people’s bills doubled after Christmas — and the cost of electricity. That has an impact on small businesses in particular. They have found it very difficult to continue in business due to the constraints being put on them by the high cost of energy, and electricity in particular.
I welcomed the news yesterday that Bord Gáis is reducing its charges and has entered into a programme for electricity supply. Senator O’Reilly said last week that Bord Gáis should be in a competitive position in terms of electricity supply. I do not know if the Senator had inside information but it announced that this morning. That is welcome news and it was necessary for that to be done.
As the Senator outlined also, a great deal of energy is wasted in homes which people are only realising now. It can be lost through the roof due to inadequate insulation. There is insulation in houses for the past 50 or 60 years that was never upgraded. Lagging jackets is another issue. Even in my home I notice there is not a proper lagging jacket on the boiler. Energy efficient bulbs are available which last 50 times longer than standard bulbs. They are cheaper and they use less electricity. All those areas are embodied in this measure.
Another matter about which Senator O’Reilly and myself often speak is alternative energy, which is connected to this issue. In other countries households provide their own electricity by way of windmills. Senator O’Reilly told me it is costly to maintain them but these are the areas we should examine. We should examine the possibility of harnessing our rivers and streams——
Senator Martin Brady: ——which years ago powered tanneries, corn mills and so on and provided employment for a large number of people. Those facilities still exist and we should examine the possibility of progressing that issue. We have to get back to that type of operation. It is beneficial on three fronts. It will create jobs and be good for the climate and for the people in that our natural resources will be harnessed and put to the best use possible.
I thank the Senator for bringing forward the motion.It is good to see somebody utilise their knowledge, skills and talent and on this occasion Senator Butler comes up well above the mark in that regard.
This amendment identifies the central weaknesses of the proposition before the House and condemns the nature of the organisation of this scheme, the lack of funding and the lack of coherence in terms of existing schemes.
This scheme has been badly organised. This Government appears to have lost its touch because while the scheme is good in principle, and nobody objects to the principle because we have all called for it, including some of my colleagues, it has been presented and organised very badly. It was a major mistake to leave a time gap between the announcement of the scheme and the beginning of applications at the end of March because people are putting insulation work on hold. A Member of the Dáil told me yesterday that in one area in County Waterford, and my colleague Senator Coffey would be familiar with this, ten jobs have been lost because there is no activity in the supply of insulation materials. That is a serious development.
In the county that my good friend, Senator Brady, and myself hail from, County Cavan, Kingspan is one of the best employers in the area. It is a well organised company which is run by the Murtagh family. That firm is now experiencing a stand still in activity in the insulation area. That was a major error on the part of the Government. It is a disgrace and is something that should not have happened. To be fair, it is not Senator Butler’s fault but it is a systems failure in that there should not be a time gap between the announcement and the implementation of the scheme. Strategies should have been put in place to prevent that. This time gap is causing unemployment at a time when construction is in a terrible state — it is at a standstill. It is a very serious matter.
The Minister must try to do something to shorten the period to the very minimum. I acknowledge that Senator Butler’s point made earlier was that we must shorten that gap because it is wrong. The Minister should do two things. He should first accept that a blunder has been made and that it is a systems failure and, second, apologise Obama style. Having apologised, he should then affirm to us that he will go back to his Department and at dawn tomorrow he will begin a process of implementing the scheme as a priority within a few days. It is a disgrace that this has happened and a shocking indictment of Government. It is up to the Minister to apologise and set a process of correction in place.
This scheme is very important for the construction industry because up to 37,000 jobs were lost in January and there are 326,000 people unemployed throughout the country; we have some projections also in that regard. The construction industry needs a boost. Not only do we need to insulate houses but we must insulate schools, to which reference is made, and initiate a full programme of school refurbishment and building.
When we consider the cost of jobseeker’s allowance, the amount of money that goes back into the economy in terms of VAT receipts and taxation, the cost of prefabricated buildings for schools and the reduced cost of contract work, it would be almost cost neutral to have an insulation scheme for schools. In that sense this programme it is to be welcomed as a boost for the construction industry.
I want to raise an issue which the Minister of State might respond to when replying. It is shocking that we are not honouring the housing aid for the elderly scheme and the disabled persons’ grants. Those schemes have been stopped in my county and in a number of other counties owing to a lack of funding. A Minister — I am not sure whether it was the Minister of State — gave a disingenuous answer in the Dáil. He stated that it was up to the local authority to provide 20% of the funding and to determine the amount of money to be spent on housing aid for the elderly and for the disabled grant scheme. County Cavan, as elsewhere, has the funding locally and is prepared to dedicate local funding of 20% but it lacks the crucial 80%. That is why that leg is in our motion. It is very important we implement housing aid for the elderly and the essential repairs grant. Those two schemes are first cousins of an insulation scheme. The windows issue would be dealt with within the essential repairs grant and it is very important that this would happen.
I welcome the scheme in principle and the allocation made to it but I repeat that a mess has been made in its implementation. There is a problem at present with fuel poverty. The Economic and Social Research Institute determines that fuel poverty exists if a family spends more than 10% of its income on fuel. There are now 300,000 people experiencing fuel poverty. An insulation scheme and a back-up programme are obviously important. For this reason, housing aid for the elderly and the essential repairs grants are vital. We must have a response to these points.
I would like to be able to go back to the members of Cavan County Council tomorrow and tell them I was told in the Seanad today that there will be a proper response and that the essential repairs grant and housing aid for the elderly will be implemented as a matter of urgency. I would like to say the same to colleagues in other county councils. Senator McFadden spoke about County Westmeath in similar terms recently. Such a response would take care of the windows issue.
I am in favour of the building energy rating and I welcome the grant for it. This is very important in the context of Kyoto fines. It is very important we do not waste money unnecessarily, either buying carbon credits or paying Kyoto fines. That is money going out of the country. It is not productive expenditure and we should not be paying it.
I accept the points that were made very well and very articulately by Senator Brady concerning alternative and green energy. Those initiatives are, of course, parallel with this one. This scheme is good in principle but we need to add a number of points. It must be initiated immediately and the banks must come on side to lend to people. I ask the Minister of State to what degree he is in proper and firm negotiations with the banks so that there may be a positive response to householders who will try to use the scheme. I hope there will be quality control on the scheme. I ask the Minister of State to respond to this point too. We must monitor how attractive the scheme is and change or tweak it as necessary. I believe there will be a high uptake but am a little concerned that the grant aid may be on the low side. A little more might be needed to kick-start it. One hopes it will work because it is vital it does. I look forward to the Minister of State’s apology and to his assurances that he will get the scheme going within 48 hours——
Senator Dan Boyle: I second and commend today’s motion. It must be acknowledged that we live in difficult fiscal times and difficult decisions have been made to pare back very important public expenditure programmes. The Government has made a conscious decision that one area where additional expenditure will be and must be made available is in home insulation. As other speakers have commented, there are cumulative benefits for adopting this approach. In announcing the scheme the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, pointed out this scheme has the potential to produce 4,000 jobs that are badly needed in the current climate.
In addressing the issue of poorly insulated housing stock the scheme will also be a significant contributor in reducing our Kyoto liabilities in carbon costs. On those grounds alone it would be a very welcome programme. However, it is structured in a multifaceted way. The home energy saving scheme is only one of a series of programmes that exist now, from the original greener homes programme to the warmer homes programme. This scheme exists at a number of levels. There is a level for private householders and another level where funding is to be provided by Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for local authority housing stock. Money is being spent in the Department of Education and Science to ensure much of our public school building stock, which is utilised by our young people every day, achieves the highest possible energy standards. There will be multiple benefits from following this programme.
We must place the scheme in the context of policy on energy conservation. This, again, exists on a wider level. The Government has offered incentives to businesses to acquire energy efficient equipment. Grants are available for the generation of electricity by renewable sources. There is particular support for new technology in energy generation. In the past we failed to press home a natural advantage in respect of technology to harness wind. We will be able to do so with wave and tidal power. In all these ways the scheme is a good news story in an era when all too sadly we lack good news. I hope the Opposition will recognise this. An amendment was tabled but I believe the House should support this motion as it is. I do not see anything particularly contentious in it. The motion points out that the scheme, as structured, will deal with insulation in its wider sense and will show how roofing, exterior walls, and flooring can be used by householders to save on their energy bills.
We are in the middle of a political debate about energy costs in this country. I am confident the Government, through the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, is making the appropriate decisions in this regard. On another level, we should also use today’s debate to talk about not only what is being achieved in the home energy savings scheme but to place it as a linchpin in a series of economic initiatives to be adopted in coming years with regard to reinventing and restoring economic strength in this country. I and my party believe that the economy will not be restored by what was seen to have worked in the past. Reincentivising the housing market will not work. We must look at the 1 million houses we already have in our housing stock and see to what extent we can make them energy efficient and how we can create a new market where houses will be bought not only for their location but because of their energy efficiency. When we achieve that we will see how programmes and policies such as this can be successful.
On those grounds, today’s debate should be less contentious than those we usually conduct during Private Members’ Business. This is one of the better news stories in terms of Government policies and I commend the motion to the House.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I find this to be an extraordinarily divisive motion. I can barely speak and hold my breath dealing with it because I am so angered. I have no problem with my colleague on the other side of the House who was not present, who joined this House only in 2007 and who can hold no responsibility for the things I will mention now. I am angered that Fianna Fáil would dare table a motion aimed at tackling the legacy of poorly insulated homes. The motion says the programme is “aimed at tackling the legacy of poorly insulated homes”. I have my speech from 2006. I could also get my speeches from 2004 and 2003. This problem has been created since 1998 with this Government refusing to implement the insulation requirements clearly coming down the road from the European Community. We acted disgracefully in the Dublin area for those ten years. Since 1998 more than 250,000 houses have been built in Dublin with hollow blocks that would not be used to build cow sheds in counties Kerry, Cork, Waterford or the rest of Munster and would not get HomeBond insurance in those counties. I stand to be corrected but I have checked this time and again. From his background Senator Butler will be well aware that it is extraordinarily difficult to retro-insulate a hollow block house. I built my house in 1971 with hollow walls and it was very easy to retro-insulate that by filling the space between the walls. The Acting Chairman, Senator Phelan, knows well that if one were to try to fill all the holes in hollow blocks one would have to put a million holes in the side of one’s wall.
At that time I brought forward a motion, supported by Fine Gael and seconded by former Senator Brian Hayes, to congratulate Fingal County Council on being the first local authority in the Dublin area to introduce the proper standards. The Minister should know that this row went on for ten years. Mr. Gerard McCaughey of Century Homes led the debate on this. He got no hearing from anybody except the Green Party. It was interesting to hear Senator O’Reilly refer to Kingspan, which somewhere along the way bought Century Homes. The company is still at the leading edge of the home building industry in terms of floor, wall and roof insulation and is doing an extraordinary job.
In this city tonight there are young couples who are worried not only about their income levy, pension levy or losing their jobs but for the next 30 years will be paying off houses that will never reach the level of insulation required. If they ever want to sell them on they will lose money. It is a disgrace. I said it two years ago and I will say it now: people should be sacked for it. It is all on the record, every bit of it. In no way do I hold Senator Butler responsible for it. I have raised these issues in the House time and again since 2000. I asked that the Government bring forward the European directive. When the Government saw it coming down the road it did nothing about it.
When it had to do it, the Government brought forward its own proposal so that Ireland developed a new way of measuring energy efficiently to do with heat loss through the roof as opposed to the international standard, namely the cost per annum to heat a cubic metre of space, which is what it should be. The Government rejected that and Ministers came to the House and argued with me that there was no need to do this. Looking back ten years later we know the difference. What we have done over that period is a disgrace. We have condemned young people to live in sub-standard houses on which they will never recoup their investment. This is completely unnecessary.
The Green Party held this view all along. It was only a month in Government when it implemented this. If it never does anything else, it got that implemented. We examined getting derogations from it and trying to avoid implementing it. The last time I said that in October 2006 a Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government went on “Prime Time” and said the reason it was not done was that it would add to the cost of houses for young people. The cost at that stage to bring in the standard of insulation we require, an “A” building energy rating or whatever, would have been €800. Members should listen to this debate again and the amounts of money we are talking about. This €800 would have saved all this money at this stage. Talk about bad economics and decisions and burying people in sub-standard housing. It is a disgrace and it was all in front of us.
It is not as if we did not know. We saw it happening. We argued across the floor in this House. The Government side voted against this two short years ago and earlier. In a Private Members’ motion we demanded that the Government take immediate action and it went against it. Regrettably, hundreds of thousands of existing houses with poor energy efficiency, such as hollow block built homes, will have a lower energy rating and, consequently, a lower resale value. Home owners will continue to pay more every year for the heating of those homes and the repayments while the homes lose value. Fianna Fáil voted against that two years ago. We could see it happening in front of us.
I do not blame builders for this. Builders are long enough in the game to build to the regulations and do only what they need to do to build and sell a house. I blame the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with the collusion of Government. It is the most disgraceful thing that has happened in the environment area in the past ten years. It happened in front of our eyes. The Government was reminded time and again. I saw Mr. McCaughey on television many times. I discussed it with him two or three times. Deputy Gormley, as an Opposition Deputy for the Green Party, raised it time and again. I saw the sums being done and it being priced. I saw the international movement and the different moves we made here to get out of it. I had many arguments with then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, on it in the House and outside and no attempt was made to do it.
The Cathaoirleach will understand why I am less than enthusiastic about what Senator Boyle referred to as an uncontroversial motion. There is nothing whatever wrong with Senator Butler’s points and I have no problem with them. I have a problem with this idea that the world began tonight. This was sitting in front of us for ten years and we walked away from it. We refused to deal with it. We have condemned people to sub-standard conditions, high payments, etc. There are companies that have done everything to try to get it right. Companies such as Century Homes and Kingspan led the way on this and fought for it. It created a major and unnecessary row between timber framed and concrete homes. There is no reason concrete homes could not be properly insulated. We refused to deal with these issues and that is why I would feel hypocritical supporting the motion.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power): I very much welcome this motion and thank Senators Butler and Brady for their support and endeavours in tabling it. I acknowledge the contributions from the other side and Senator O’Reilly’s support. He is a little critical of the timing but in general he is very supportive of what is proposed.
The national insulation programme for economic recovery, launched by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, on 8 February is a progressive and economically prudent programme aimed at substantially addressing the legacy of older housing with poor standards of energy efficiency. It is fitting and right that we discuss the matter in this House. While the programme offers many advantages to various sectors, and I will go on to highlight these, it is important to note that this programme has been crafted following much considered input over time from different Departments, State agencies, local authorities, local energy agencies, community-based organisations and, not least, following well-founded, well-researched input from many Members across all parties in these Houses.
Energy policy, above any other, should be a model for cross-party consensus. Ireland’s relatively remote geographical position means it is incumbent upon us all to develop visionary yet simple, collaborative rather than compromised, energy policies that will allow us to safeguard our security of energy supply in the face of uncertain and volatile world markets. It is our collective duty to protect the vulnerable members of our society for whom the cost of heating their homes is a significant burden. This programme is a major step forward in tackling this issue. Even for those on average means, the cost of installing measures to improve the energy efficiency of their homes can be a significant barrier to wider take-up. This financial barrier to a wider uptake in measures has been a prohibitive factor for too long. Again, this programme tackles this issue head-on.
The national insulation programme for economic recovery is essentially a three-pronged approach to addressing the legacy of older housing with poor energy efficiency standards. The home energy saving scheme is the largest element of the programme. The pilot programme, which Sustainable Energy Ireland undertook last year and which tested the business case for State support to householders upgrading their homes’ energy efficiency, found that there was a sound business case and a considerable appetite for such a scheme. The Government has responded by allocating a budget of €50 million in 2009.
This scheme has the potential to support the up-grade of in excess of 27,500 homes in 2009. Sustainable Energy Ireland estimates that demand for this scheme could ultimately exceed 100,000 homes. Home owners can expect to save up to €700 per year on their energy bills if they install the full suite of measures available under the scheme. The scheme offers grants of up to 40% of the typical cost of energy efficiency upgrade measures. The full range of measures and the associated grant level is as follows: roof insulation —€250; cavity wall insulation —€400; internal wall insulation —€2,500; external wall insulation —€4,000; high efficiency boiler with heating controls upgrade —€700; heating controls upgrade only —€500; and building energy rating assessment —€200.
Obviously, home owners will have to part-finance the work carried out. I call upon the country’s lending institutions and energy service companies to associate themselves with the scheme and offer innovative, competitive solutions to what will be a very significant market. A question was asked about the banks coming on board and providing the necessary funds. That is one of the issues that was discussed with the banks in the recent negotiations and I understand that significant funds will be provided specifically for this purpose.
The scheme has been launched now to allow installers who wish to participate in the scheme to register with SEI. Registered contractors are required to sign up to a code of conduct and comply with a range of terms and conditions to ensure the quality of work carried out under the scheme. They will also have to carry a specified level of insurance and be fully tax compliant. Sustainable Energy Ireland will implement a quality assurance and inspection programme to ensure compliance with these requirements. This scheme is a wonderful opportunity for contractors, electricians, plumbers and labourers to maintain and create employment. Sustainable Energy Ireland is now inviting calls from anyone wishing to register as contractors on the scheme to contact it on 1850 927000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The scheme itself will be open to anybody owning a house that was built prior to 2006, and home owners and landlords will be able to apply under the scheme from next month. In the meantime, home owners can now register their interest with SEI on 1850 927000 or at email@example.com. Home owners may also arrange to have a building energy rating carried out immediately if they wish, but this is not a requirement for participation in the scheme. However, it is important to note that home owners should not take action on the other measures until they have received grant approval from Sustainable Energy Ireland.
The second element of the national insulation programme for economic recovery — the warmer homes scheme — is designed to assist private households on low incomes, such as those in receipt of fuel allowance and invalidity or disability benefit. The Government is committed to protecting vulnerable consumers from the impact of high energy costs through a combination of institutional supports and investment in improving the energy efficiency of the housing stock. In recent years 20,000 homes have been substantially upgraded by the warmer homes scheme. In 2009, €20 million has been made available to the scheme. This greatly increased level of funding is expected to support energy efficiency interventions in up to 15,000 low income homes in this year alone.
Sustainable Energy Ireland, in consultation with the ESB, Bord Gáis and other interested parties, is reviewing the operation of the scheme with the aim of ensuring that maximum impact is delivered from the enhanced funding. The scheme provides for the installation of a range of energy efficiency measures, including cavity wall insulation, attic insulation, boiler lagging jackets, draught proofing measures and energy efficient lighting. Advice is also provided to householders on minimising energy use. The warmer homes scheme provides these measures free or at a nominal cost to the householder.
There are 20 community-based organisations currently delivering the warmer homes scheme, which represents just over two thirds of the country. Under an initiative to extend the scheme nationwide in 2009, Sustainable Energy Ireland plans to commence the introduction of new community-based organisations to the scheme from the end of March 2009. A number of improvements to the warmer homes scheme are gradually being introduced in this quarter, including a new freefone service designed to assist eligible home owners in identifying their nearest provider. If outside of current coverage, their details will be recorded and notified as soon as the service becomes available in their area. In addition, a new website will be launched to allow home owners, neighbours and relatives to find out more information about the warmer homes scheme and other grant schemes available in their area. Further information on the warmer homes scheme is available by calling 1800 250204 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.sei.ie.
In terms of institutional supports for vulnerable energy users, last year the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, established an interdepartmental group led by his Department and the Department for Social and Family Affairs, which also includes the Departments of Finance, the Taoiseach, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and Health and Children, the Commission for Energy Regulation, SEI, the ESB, Bord Gáis and the Institute of Public Health. This intensive co-operation and co-ordinated working by all the relevant Departments, agencies and the utilities ensures the effective delivery of a comprehensive approach to addressing energy affordability.
The interdepartmental group has been conducting a series of meetings with representative groups and agencies, including Age Action Ireland and Energy Action, in addition to relevant groups and agencies in Northern Ireland. The group has finalised an advisory booklet to inform and assist those seeking advice about supports relating to energy affordability. The booklet will be published this month alongside a new complementary website and will be widely disseminated.
The third element of the national insulation programme for economic recovery will involve providing similar energy efficiency upgrade measures in social housing. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will make further announcements on this element of the programme in due course.
The national insulation programme for economic recovery has the potential to contribute to the creation of 4,000 direct and indirect jobs, thus contributing to the Government’s priority objective of maintaining and creating employment. The programme affords us the opportunity to substantially address the energy efficiency shortcomings in our homes. By availing of the many measures on offer, we can save energy, significantly reduce our energy costs, maintain and increase comfort levels in our homes and play a part in reducing Ireland’s CO2 emissions. By being more energy efficient, we can use less energy and ensure a greater security of supply in the future. Under this national insulation programme we will use less energy but, importantly, in the current difficult economic circumstances, we will help foster the growth of a new green energy sector that can ultimately employ many thousands of people.
The benefits of the scheme are obvious. Most people will use less energy and, as a result, spend less money. Home owners will be warmer and will have reduced electricity bills. I have also mentioned the employment aspect. We expect up to 4,000 jobs to be created as a result of the scheme. Apart from those obvious benefits, I must mention the awareness this will create among people. For a long time people have been unaware of the energy they use in their homes and the habits they have developed over the years, many of them bad. The introduction of smart metering will be a great education. Its roll-out has not happened as quickly as we would wish but the indications are that as a result of providing people with smart meters they almost immediately change their habits. The times they consume electricity change and they become more conscious of their use of energy. The roll-out of smart meters to homes throughout the country will create a significant change and a major reduction in the use of electricity.
Mention was made of renewables. We all are much wiser now. It is not that long ago when we saw the price of oil increase to $147 a barrel and it has certainly changed the focus of people. Our future is very much in renewable energy and much of our attention in recent times has gone into developing the technologies and assisting people in the creation of new renewables. We have set ourselves ambitious targets for the use of renewable energy and much progress has been made.
As an island nation, we are dependent on foreign countries for the importation of our energy needs. We import over 90% of our energy. Apart from being dependent on other countries, we do not have much control over the cost of energy. As a result, energy, whether it be for use in homes or in business, is a big factor and we are certainly at a disadvantage in comparison to many other countries. For that reason we have placed enormous focus on the area of developing renewables and assisting people in developing alternatives to gas and oil.
The national energy efficiency action plan, which the Minister, Deputy Ryan, will publish shortly, will map out how Ireland will achieve energy savings of 20% across our economy by 2020. These savings will be achieved by a combination of policy interventions across all sectors. The national insulation programme is indicative of the robust economically sound policies included in the plan. It is by the implementation of the national energy efficiency plan that Ireland’s energy future will be shaped and safeguarded.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, to the House. I also welcome this sensible cost-effective creative scheme, which nobody in this House should oppose. Beyond that, this motion is a waste of time. As Senator O’Toole mentioned, we have been talking about this for a long time. Indeed, we have probably debated this matter to death, not just in this House but in the other House as well. While I am pleased to see the introduction of the home energy saving scheme, the country might be better served if we debated issues of greater importance today. Earlier I was interrupted in mid-flow by the guillotining of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2008. Then we did not have enough time to speak about the crisis in the Middle East, in Gaza, where today the bombing by Israeli aeroplanes has recommenced. Instead we must debate something that, as I stated, we have debated on numerous occasions in the past.
The Labour Party has been calling for a scheme such as this for many years and we are happy to see it introduced. In November last, at my party’s annual conference in Kilkenny, I called for the introduction of a similar scheme. I referred to the scheme being introduced in the UK to take people off the unemployment list and to reduce greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions. Until now we in Ireland were more or less sitting on our hands. We could have done much more. I am glad to see the introduction of this measure at last. It is good to see initiatives like this being rolled out in an effort to address not only CO2 emissions but unemployment.
I note the Minister of State stated that “energy policy, above any other, should be a model for cross-party consensus”. I stated on many occasions in this House that the Labour Party will not challenge or obstruct sensible solutions to national problems and I reaffirm that commitment. Certainly we will not stand in the way of this policy because we believe it will work.
In July last year, Sustainable Energy Ireland released a report stating that the average Irish household consumes 27% more energy than the average UK household, and 31% more than the average European Union household. The report found that household fuel use decreased by less than 0.5% from 1995 to 2006 while at the same time the average electricity use per person increased by an enormous 62%. A national insulation drive is a first step in addressing the household energy crisis we are facing and other follow-on initiatives will be necessary to ensure we tackle the issue of energy.
It makes sense to seal in the energy escaping from our houses but it is disappointing that the scheme does not extend to renewal and replacement of windows, particularly single glazed windows. Even in an optimally insulated home heat will continue to escape through the windows and cracks that appear, and this scheme sets out no specific provision to address that.
Recently the urban institute in University College Dublin exhibited a sensory detection programme which it developed. It uses a specialised thermal-imaging camera to conduct an audit of the built environment. One can go around a room with the camera to identify exactly where heat is escaping. It is a useful tool to allow us to rectify the position and put remedial measures in place. Its findings show consistently that one of the main causes of heat escape is through windows, mostly single glazed windows. The Minister must make home insulation schemes the first port of call in a journey towards preventing the escape of energy from homes.
On the subject of investing in research, this is exactly the kind of initiative that should be developed by the innovation community. In five years’ time the Government will have spent approximately €1 billion in promoting research in Ireland and it is essential that projects that will facilitate sustainable policies for national recovery are supported. The urban institute at University College Dublin and the environmental research institute at University College Cork are national centres of excellence in this field and it is important that policy is influenced by the research going on there. I note the Minister of State mentioned the issue of smart meters. I agree this could help to reduce energy use by people and I welcome their introduction by the energy companies.
I ask the Minister to use his offices to highlight that measures such as the new smart meters and allowing people to pay their bills on-line lead to a reduction in the costs of operation for these electricity companies, yet they do not seem to be passing these savings on to customers. I ask him to use his offices to call on the electricity companies to pass on these savings. In the UK, for instance, some of the energy companies, as a result of electronic billing, managed to pass on savings of up to 10% to their customers and I would encourage electricity companies to do the same here.
Until now it could have been argued that there was a lack of synergy when it came to making policy in this country. Successive Governments have invested enormous sums in research and it is important to ensure that any research developed is put into practice so that we have practical solutions that can be used. Tackling these problems presents an opportunity to get all sectors of society moving together in search of solutions. Tax breaks and start-up grants should be increased and fast-tracked in the direction of entrepreneurs and inventors working in this field.
Recently it was announced that the market for solar collectors has increased by 300% in the ten years to 2008 and it has reached approximately €1 billion. The next company such as Google or Nokia is most likely to be in this renewable and sustainable energy sector. That company may not necessarily come from Helsinki or Silicon Valley, it could quite easily come from some part of Ireland. We have the education and we have the drive. For instance, last month a company in Mayo created 20 jobs by developing a hyper-efficient solar-panel collector system. We have the technology and we have the commitment to do that.
There is no reason Ireland cannot benefit from the coming green revolution, but to do so we need to invest at grassroots and to encourage and develop this kind of industry through tax breaks. Amidst all the doom and gloom, it is not a sin to be hopeful about the future. These are the opportunities that may see us through these bad times.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this motion. I understand to a degree Senator O’Toole’s frustration because he was a Member of the House a long time before me. However, he is not the first to advocate programmes such as this. Many years ago I heard people advocating the need for better insulation in our homes, attics and so on. Almost 20 years ago I can remember the ESB taking the initiative and including leaflets in its billing system on this type of activity to help energy ratings in the home. It was asking people to put lagging jackets on hot water cylinders, insulate attics and even doing special offers in ESB shops. I remind Members that this is not a new idea and that we are coming late to the table with this initiative. What is being proposed is a remediation programme which, the motion says, is aimed at “tackling the legacy of poorly insulated homes”.
The Government alone is responsible for that legacy over the past ten to 20 years when the housing boom saw unprecedented levels of building in this country. It now has the audacity to say it is introducing a programme to deal with that legacy. Let us be honest about the fact that we have neglected our duties as Government and regulators of the building sector. We have neglected the opportunities, now well gone, to have insulated properly the many thousands of homes that were built. We are playing catch-up. I understand from the motion that the Government expects to have its back clapped, but I will not be doing that because it neglected the situation when it should have been addressed many years ago. It is not for the want of people telling the Government about it.
None the less, I welcome the principle of the grant scheme whereby people in sub-standard homes with heat going out the doors and windows will have an opportunity to deal with that issue. The amount of fuel poverty in Ireland is now widely recognised. I am aware of local authorities that introduced schemes where oil boilers and central heating systems were installed. Now I hear horror stories about some of these boilers being taken out and sold. People are selling the oil in the tanks because they cannot afford to burn it.
Waterford Stanley in my constituency was under serious pressure before Christmas and putting the staff on a three-day week. Now it has gone back on full-time work, which I welcome, because it makes solid fuel burners. Owing to the demand for solid fuel now, people are switching off their oil-dependent appliances and moving to solid fuel to heat the rooms they spend their time in. That is reality and here we are introducing insulation schemes at a very late date.
The scheme is broken down into three strands, according to the Minister of State. One is to cut heating bills, the second is to reduce carbon emissions and the third is to create jobs, all of which are to be welcomed. I have spoken already about some of the heating impacts. To reduce carbon emissions, a major job of work must be done because of the building energy rating that has been introduced. Again, that is late to the table because many of the agencies, even the local authorities, are not sure who the assessors are who will monitor this work, whether there are enough of them and if the public is fully aware of how they may be accessed. There is work to be done in trying to improve matters there.
As regards the warmer homes scheme and local authority housing, the Minister of State might clarify some of the confusion. The scheme is meant to apply, he says, to low income private homes and also to rented local authority housing. There is no mention of local authority housing qualifying for this particular grant on the Sustainable Energy Ireland website. The website says it applies to low income households or those on a social welfare allowance. There is no mention of local authority housing. My local authority was questioned on this recently and it was unable to answer. Senators are quite right in saying this scheme was announced without proper information and without the resources to engage properly with those required to assist in the working of the scheme. More work must be done in that regard because the message is incoherent and seems to be very disorganised.
Of course, there are the delays in the scheme whereby we are being told it is to be introduced in March and the industry is waiting, as is the public, on those who know about the scheme. These are unnecessary delays and should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Under the existing schemes in local authorities, especially those such as housing aid for the elderly and housing adaption grants, many people took the opportunity to insulate while houses were being renovated. I need not tell the Minister of State as a public representative how over-subscribed those schemes and grants are. In the summer of 2008 local authorities were closing the schemes because they had no more funding either from central government or their own resources to conclude and finish those grant applications that were in place. We are not properly resourcing them and that creates a problem.
People mentioned smart metering. This is a great idea but the roll-out is much too slow. Why are we taking so long since its announcement to see smart metering installed in the pilot areas? That programme needs to be speeded up. It will help raise awareness and give householders a better idea about energy usage in their homes.
On a related theme, there are barriers in the way of people lessening their carbon emissions. If they want to go to the night rate dual tariff meter, they first have to pay exorbitant fees for the ESB technician and then must pay a much higher standing charge for the meter. That means it is not viable for people to change to night rate electricity. This is typical of the simple things the Government can ask the ESB and other electricity providers to do to assist householders to shift their energy usage patterns, perhaps into the night-time, to lessen demand on generating stations and reduce overall carbon emissions. This can be done simply but we must incentivise such initiatives properly so that the public latches onto and avails of such measures. There are ways and means other than just insulating attics. While that is very important, there are other routes in the whole area of energy usage such as incentivising the use of renewable energy. More work can be done in this regard.
We oppose the motion because we believe the Government is coming late to the table. It is introducing a remediation package which we welcome, but the legacy of this Government over the past ten to 15 years when there was an unprecedented housing boom meant that building standards were not properly regulated. Now, at a later stage, we are trying to remediate all that, to pump insulation into cavities and attics, when it should have been done long before. Many people had been advocating this for many years. I can go back 20 years when the ESB leaflets were going into every house along with the bills. However, the Government turned a blind eye and took no notice.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As I have said before, I find it funny that Senator Butler is commending the Government in any motion at this stage considering the mess it has made of everything. None the less, I believe the Senator’s heart is in the right place. He has worked for a long time on this scheme. I would have asked the same questions last week that I am going to ask now when, to tremendous applause, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, was on the six o’clock news on Sunday evening, with the guys running in behind him with the radiators. It looked as if the whole system was in place, but unfortunately that is not the case and it took three days before anything appeared on the website of Sustainable Energy Ireland, which I believe is the organisation that will look after the scheme.
The first question on people’s lips is about reducing their energy bills and they welcomed this grant. I acknowledge that the Green Party has come up with a positive initiative but Fine Gael has been highlighting the problem for a long time. I was at a loss to advise people how they could apply because information is not yet available on the scheme. People will have to find the money to pay for the improvements and claim the grant retrospectively but there is little surplus cash available for people to extend themselves in this manner. I hope the delays experienced thus far in regard to funding will not become an issue.
I have been shouting loudly at Westmeath County Council for disabled persons grants, essential repairs grants and heating for the elderly grants. I am aware of one elderly man who has been waiting two years for a grant. Even though it is now the middle of February, the county council has not yet prepared its budget for 2009, let alone decide how it will fund essential repairs and other grants.
This “la-di-da” scheme is worthwhile but, like everything else introduced by this Government, it is not backed up by common sense. It is not a radical idea because it is logical that we should strive to reduce our carbon footprint and help people to save money while keeping warm. As spokesperson for social and family affairs, I am acutely aware of the number of elderly people who are experiencing fuel poverty and who must decide between buying bread and butter or a bale of briquets. Does the Minister know the price of a bale of briquets? It costs a lot of money. We should provide people who fall into poverty traps with ways to insulate their houses.
Was the television advertisement involving the Minister, clean hard hats and spotless vests a set-up or did it reflect reality? How much funding will be made available and when will it be distributed? The SEI states it will proceed with the scheme when it recruits an adequate complement of contractors but there are any number of contractors available at present.
While I agree this initiative is important and long overdue, the Government has a nerve to be commending itself in this day and age. Given that Fine Gael and Senator O’Toole have long been raising this issue, it is cheeky to claim credit at this late stage. The initiative by no means represents radical thinking.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. Unfortunately, I was unable to listen to much of the debate. However, I have read the Minister of State’s speech. I am disappointed by the arguments of Senator McFadden. Essentially she agrees with the initiative.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: The scheme is worthy of our support. Senator McFadden mentioned the problem of fuel poverty. This scheme is designed to deal with that problem. She should be supporting it. It is not sufficient to say it does not go far enough because a good initiative should always be supported.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: As the Minister of State has pointed out, we need to find ways of kick-starting our economy. This green opportunity is one such way. It has the additional benefits of insulating people’s homes, making heating more cost-effective and reducing our carbon emissions. It is a winning scenario and I am astonished at Fine Gael’s response.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I have lost my train of thought, which does not help. We do not need to engage in argumentative politics for the sake of it. I spent my afternoon in a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. All members of that committee acknowledged the benefit of working together in the interests of the country. Given these economic times, that is what all of us should do. What happens during this Government’s term in office matters less than the result of our decisions on future generations. This is a positive initiative. However, I would have loved to have seen it being introduced earlier because I am very interested in energy issues.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: We are overly dependent on imported fossil fuels and are thereby put at risk. As a Member of the previous Dáil, I spent a lot of time trying to convince the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to introduce a strong insulation scheme. Such a scheme benefits houses and, more importantly, the people who live in them. It is an extremely welcome initiative and I applaud the Government on it. I hope to qualify for a grant at some point.
We need to think about the amount of energy we consume. It is commendable that we are now addressing the fact that our housing stock has been constructed to low energy efficiency standards. It would have been nice to think that the Opposition would have supported us on this. I do not ask Senators to pat the Government on the back all the time but they should support positive initiatives. Opposition for its own sake does nobody any good.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I look forward to seeing the positive effects this initiative will have. We need to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the area of green energy because that type of thinking will help us through the economic difficulties we face.
Other countries, notably America, are taking similar initiatives to this scheme. Thankfully the new US administration has made a stronger commitment to environmental concerns such as climate change and reducing carbon emissions. These initiatives are similar the world over and are exactly what we need to pursue. I hope they will be extended. I met earlier members of the Construction Industry Federation who told me many people who worked in the construction industry are unemployed. We need to think about these people. There was an array of protests today by people in secure employment who are concerned about their jobs and the contribution they are being asked to make. We need to look a little beyond this and ask ourselves what contribution we want to make to assist those who have lost their jobs. Many in the construction industry have lost their jobs at this point. This initiative offers them hope and opportunity to return to the workforce, which is a commendable effort on the part of Government. I welcome the initiative and wish the Government good luck with it. I hope it is a resounding success.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ní glacfaidh mé ach seal beag ama chun an méid atá le rá agam ar an gceist seo — an clár fuinnimh agus teasdíonta atá fógraithe ag an Rialtas — a rá. Sa chéad dul síos, caithfidh mé a rá go gcuirim fáilte roimh an rúin atá curtha síos ag páirtithe an Rialtais. Ní féidir liom tacaíocht a thabhairt do mhórchuid an rúin, áfach. Rachfaidh mé isteach sna nithe sin níos moille. Ba mhaith liom níos mó a rá faoi chúrsaí fuinnimh, go mórmhór faoi chostais fhuinnimh. Tááthas orm an deis seo a ghlacadh chun na hábhair sin a phlé.
I support the sentiments expressed in the motion and clearly welcome any move to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and get people back to work, which this will do. I welcome the introduction of this scheme for which my party has called for a long time. It is a pity it has taken so long to introduce it and that it is not up and running at this stage. However, the introduction of this scheme is a sign of hope. Whenever things are done right and programmes are being developed, however belatedly, one must offer congratulations to those responsible. As stated, there is never a wrong time to do what is right. The insulation programme is the way forward. It is what the country needs at this point. While it will have only limited effect, it must be acknowledged.
I would like to touch on many of the other issues related to energy that need to be addressed. Despite Bord Gáis’s indication today that its gas prices will fall by 25% over the year, fuel poverty will remain a major problem. The Institute of Public Health study in 2007 stated that fuel poverty in this country was at an unacceptably high level by international standards. This was prior to the more recent steep increases in gas and electricity charges. Families on marginal incomes and elderly people in particular are most affected, often to the extent of having to get into further debt to heat their homes.
It was estimated that in the region of 2,800 people per annum on the island of Ireland die as a result of deficiencies in households in terms of their being able to meet their energy needs, which is shameful. The most alarming aspect of the studies on fuel poverty is that the rates of fuel poverty increased even during the years of highest economic growth and that the level of household income below which families were finding it difficult to meet their energy needs was rising steeply, an indication that energy prices and the relative proportion of household income required to meet their needs was rising at a faster rate than most other essentials.
I have reservations about Bord Gáis committing itself to lowering electricity prices by 10% in competition with the ESB. Surely, given we are dealing with two State agencies, it would make more sense that the energy regulator allow the ESB to lower its prices to consumers to similarly reflect the global price trends expected to be reflected in falling gas charges. There is also concern that in seeking to expand its share of the electricity market, Bord Gáis is boasting its attractiveness to potential private investors in the event of it being privatised, something I do not believe would be in the interests of this country or Irish consumers. Donegal, which is the region I represent and most of the west of Ireland does not have access to the gas network. It is hoped that the Government will introduce initiatives, such as those outlined in my report, Awakening the West, to subsidise these regions so that gas can be provided to them.
While the national insulation programme will address some of the problems associated with energy conservation and costs and will provide jobs, it must be said this Government is failing to tackle fuel poverty and to make the necessary investment in renewable energy to ensure its targets are met. Senator O’Malley asked why the Opposition will not support the motion. I support the scheme and the sentiments expressed in the motion. However, to support it would be like congratulating an arsonist who, having set a building alight, threw a bucket of water over it as it burned to the ground.
Why in the first instance must we introduce an insulation scheme? We must do so because successive Governments have allowed the developers in this country to build houses on the cheap, without insulation and using breeze blocks. It is not that long ago since this happened. I am a civil engineer and have worked on sites in Dublin. Houses have been built with breeze blocks that cannot be insulated. This happened because regulations were not tight enough.
The Government’s cosy relationship with the developers allowed them to build houses on the cheap, sell them for massive prices and leave people with the difficulties now being experienced in terms of mortgages. The State must now provide money to fix the problem which the Government and developers created. I cannot support a motion which congratulates the Government on getting its act together. I welcome that it has got its act together but congratulating it on addressing a problem which it caused in the first instance is a step too far. For this reason, I will be opposing the motion.
Senator Paddy Burke: I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this motion. While I welcome that the Government has decided finally to do something about conserving energy, I cannot congratulate it on what it has done so far. The Government is almost two years in office, almost as long as the Government of 1995-1997 led by the former Deputy John Bruton. When one considers what that Government did compared with what this Government has done, one can understand why we on this side of the House cannot support this motion.
I would like to follow on from what Senator Doherty had to say about wall insulation options. The outline of the policy states that to insulate the walls of their home, owners may choose to have insulated a cavity wall, internal or external, depending on the construction of their home, and that home owners should seek professional advice about which option is best. Incidentally, we are speaking in this regard of less well-off people. A home owner must have a building energy rating, BER, assessment done of his or her home. This assessment costs in the region of €500 and applicants are entitled to a grant of €200 towards the assessment. Less well-off people are being asked to find €300 towards the cost of a BER assessment of their home. In many cases these people are not in a position to do this.
Some time ago a motion was tabled by this side of the House calling on the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government to ban the building with cavity blocks of houses in Dublin, of which there are thousands. The resources provided under this scheme are but a drop in the ocean in comparison with what will be required to insulate the thousands of houses in the city built with such blocks. What is the choice for those with houses built with cavity blocks? They must have either internal or external installation. The report demonstrates that external insulation is by far the most expensive whereas internal installation is a little cheaper. Cavity walls are common in most rural areas, although the planning authority in my county would not allow one to build a house with cavity blocks and would make sure 4 in. solid block with insulation was used.
It is incredible that the Government fought against the motion to stop the building of houses with cavity blocks. It will be almost impossible to insulate those houses in Dublin because the insulation will have to be undertaken internally or externally, the two most expensive options. This is what has happened with thousands of houses which have been built in the past ten years. The scheme will cost a fortune. The list of those who will carry out the assessments shows only one agency in Dublin although thousands of houses must be assessed and insulated. This scheme is very poorly thought out.
Where is the cut-off point for the low paid? Is it at the minimum wage, €30,000, €40,000 or €50,000? Is it with regard to the condition of the house and whether it is poorly insulated or with regard to the age of the house and whether it was built five, ten or 20 years ago? This is not spelled out very well. The rural organisations that are carrying out these assessments contain good people who voluntarily give up much time. It is they, at the end of the day, who will decide what funding is dished out to successful applicants. Where will the line be drawn? Is it in regard to the age of the house or the income of the families?
Will local authority houses qualify for the scheme? Given the new schemes announced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in recent years, particularly in terms of the existing stock of houses, the council housing stock is worst off at this time. There are very few, if any, schemes being put in place by the Government to upgrade the existing local authority housing stock. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing recently put €20 million in place to rent new houses that have been built by developers in recent years but this will be to the detriment of the local authority housing stock.
The Minister of State might explain what other schemes could be put in place such as in regard to wind energy and domestic turbines. Many houses or groups of houses would install domestic turbines if grant assistance were available towards this. The Government could go down this road. The new oil in this country is wind and wave energy but the Government is moving too slowly in this regard. We must seek out the opportunities that exist at present. There is no point talking about them but until now it has been all talk and no action. The people are waiting for action and require that it be taken.
Many people are involved in energy conservation throughout the country and while they may not be qualified to carry out building energy rating, BER, assessments, in most cases they know exactly what must be done. Those contractors should be allowed to carry out the work. These assessments will eat up a considerable amount of money. In some cases, an assessment will cost up to €500 and the less well-off will find it difficult to get this money in place to avail of the grant, whether it is for attic insulation or the many other insulation ideas the Government has put forward.
Like my colleagues, I see this as a step forward but I do not believe any great congratulations are due to the Government. There is very little action and what action has been taken is too little, too late. I congratulate the Surface Power company from Tourmakeady, County Mayo. The chief executive of the company is John Quinn who is very innovative and has done tremendous work in this area in recent years. We should have more companies of this type and such people should get every assistance and grant available to help them put forward more ideas in regard to energy conservation.
Senator Larry Butler: I thank the Minister of State for attending. It is important that we become the cutting edge of green industry and we have a great opportunity in this regard. I would not agree with some of the comments from the Opposition, particularly those of Senator O’Toole. Many other countries, including the UK, Canada and the United States, have now taken on the new installation programmes. Canada in particular has been to the forefront in regard to retrofit and energy conservation. It is in this area that Ireland can become the new leading edge with regard to this technology.
I did not get a chance in my earlier contribution to finish what I intended to say about renewables. While installation is the first and an important part of the job we must carry out, it is not the only one. Senator Burke suggested it is necessary to have a BER certificate to carry out this work but it is not. It is necessary to have a BER certificate if one is selling a house.
Quite a few private companies have set up in business to carry out the BER. There will not be a problem finding an inspector because quite a few companies in Dublin are now well set up in this regard and also with regard to retrofit. Retrofit is nothing new. Most of the small builders who have been carrying out work over the years are well qualified to do this.
There was also a misconception among some speakers with regard to cavity block, which can of course be insulated both outside and inside. I would not be big supporter of cavity block construction and would prefer to see a double-skin wall being built, which is the way most of the houses in the country have been built. However, for a fast and efficient way of carrying out work, cavity block was certainly a big help. It was one of the first improvements in system-built houses and it was possible to build them very quickly. However, they were not energy efficient. Fingal County Council and Dún Laoghaire County Council were the first local authorities in the country to demand a 40% increase in the energy rating of houses in Dublin. That move was supported by Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Fine Gael and all other parties in both councils.
I refer to the transfer to smart metering and alternative energy. This is a very significant move amounting to a total investment of €18 billion in our homes. The costing suggests a saving from insulation amounting to €9 billion. Let us consider the options in alternative energy, including micro wind power generators and solar power. Carey Glass Solar has perfected a panel that will supply electricity to houses, a significant advance in solar power. The development of micro wind power is very important because it may allow a small generator to be placed on one’s house. It may be possible to use these in group schemes and there are various other options. There is a great opportunity to go down this road.
The emergence of pellet boilers is a significant advance and a very efficient way to provide heat. When renovating my daughter’s house we installed a pellet boiler which is a fantastic, cheap, efficient and clean way to heat the house. It produces one cup of dust every week, a small pot of ash that can be put on one’s flowers.
I commend the motion to the House. It is linked with the smart economy. In future we must operate in a better and smarter way and ensure greater value for money. That is how we will get ourselves out of the trouble we are in at present. Such initiatives as the insulation scheme amount to the way forward. We must invest more money in this area. This proposal will create 4,000 jobs. We should bear in mind some of the figures. Every €25 million invested will create €100 million and a €52 million return to the Exchequer. Where else is such value to be found? Removing people from the dole queue saves approximately €25,000 per person. That is the value we can extract from this scheme.
Double glazed windows should be included in the scheme and it was a mistake to omit them from it. Some 25% of domestic heat is lost through windows. Without a double glazing unit one can lose 25% of heat and one may not reach the efficiency rating required by the building energy rating, BER, inspector. It is important that this is amended. While this investment is very welcome, we need more. The scheme will cover approximately 15,000 houses, which is not enough because there are 1 million houses in the country. This is a great opportunity to pump prime the economy and there is no better way to do this for the Exchequer and the householder. If we take money from the householder we must return some of it and this is a great way to do so.
Let us consider the options for alternative energy. Thermal energy efficiency is another option and we must examine the design of electrical fixtures in the household. There are significant amounts of money and energy to be saved in this area. It is possible to save €350 per year on light bulbs alone, a very significant amount of money. It is simply a matter of changing the bulb and it will last longer and provide more light. In the future, technology will bring substantial savings in that regard. I commend the motion and I hope the Minister will expedite the scheme. There is no reason not to do so. The sooner the Minister gets the scheme under way the better. There are many contractors available to do the work. The average contractor can do it and it does not involve any science. We should get along and create the equivalent of three Dells or 15,000 jobs in this industry. We should get on with the work.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Norris, David.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|de Búrca, Déirdre.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Ross, Shane.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
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