Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
56. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of retrofits completed under the warmer homes scheme and, separately, under the one-stop shop service; the measures he will take to increase the roll-out and to better target supports to those most in need; if he agrees a dedicated retrofit scheme aimed at households that rely on solid fuels for heating is needed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45783/22]
What are the number of retrofits completed under the warmer homes scheme and, separately, under the one-stop shop service? What are the measures the Minister will take to increase the roll-out and to better target supports to those most in need? Does he agree a dedicated retrofit scheme aimed at households that rely on solid fuels for heating is needed, and will he will make a statement on the matter?
The Government allocated €244 million to fund the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, residential, community and solar PV schemes this year. This budget enabled the introduction of a range of new measures to make it easier and more affordable for homeowners to undertake energy upgrades as well as to better target supports for those most in need. Data from the SEAI show that since the launch of the new measures in February, demand across the retrofit schemes has been exceptionally high. As of the end of last month, more than 30,000 applications for support had been received by the SEAI. This is more than double the number received during the same period last year. This demand is translating into delivery, with 3,400 home energy upgrades having been completed with support from across the range of schemes. This is up 70% when compared with the same period last year.
Approximately 2,800 of these completions were free energy upgrades provided to households at risk of energy poverty. This is almost three times the number of free upgrades provided in the same period last year. This activity was funded through an allocation of €118 million for SEAI energy poverty schemes. Under the one-stop shop service, 330 homes had been completed to the end of August. Demand for the national home energy upgrade scheme, which underpins the one-stop shop service, is high. The latest SEAI forecast indicates that approximately 900 homes will be completed under the scheme this year, with a strong pipeline of work in place as we move into 2023. Decisions concerning retrofit supports for next year are being considered as part of the Estimates process.
The Deputy will know, however, that one of the great things about the system we have in this country is that we know that for the next ten years we have €5 billion coming in to help the poorest and to protect the most vulnerable. It will be coming from the carbon tax and will be used to protect those who are vulnerable. That €5 billion is an important and clear signal that this is where we are going for the next decade.
About €5 billion will come in the years 2028, 2029 and 2030. A significant problem with the funding model is that it is back-loaded to this degree.
On those figures from the Minister, and we had them earlier from the Minister of State as well, how many of these completions have been done to a B2 or B2-equivalent standard? How many of them have been done to that standard simply with the addition of solar PV? Does the Minister have those figures? I ask this because it is important in respect of the difference these retrofits are making. I refer to the start and end points. Will the Minister change the criteria for the individual grants, increase them to 100% and front-load the grant money to ensure it is spent as quickly and as efficiently as possible?
Starting with the warmer homes energy aspect, it is not a case where we are just getting above the present standard and just going from a C rating to a B2. We are specifically targeting those houses that most need improvement, namely, those built before 1993. They must also have a present building energy rating, BER, of E, F or G. Again, regarding how the scheme has changed, we have gone from where it might have typically involved a grant of €1,000 or €2,000 to a situation now where the average spending this year, and I am going on memory, is €18,000. Therefore, it is deep retrofitting. This is important. Also important is the way we have changed the scheme to stipulate that even people who have availed of this scheme before are not precluded from applying again. Equally, we have also changed the criteria for those with disabilities. We broadened and strengthened this scheme in a range of ways.
I did not quite understand the second part of the Deputy's question. Was he suggesting that all the grants for all houses would be set at 100%? That would have real consequences in respect of the social justice aspect of this initiative.
The recommendation from the CCAC, and others, including Friends of the Earth, I think, relates to a problem existing with accessing the small and flexible grants for individual works, such as attic and cavity wall insulation. There are financial barriers in this regard. Additionally, these are projects that can be rolled out very quickly, between now and the end of the year, to provide insulation for people's homes. The recommendation is there. For those who want to see these projects run as efficiently as possible, I refer to these grants being set at 100% instead of 80% and, importantly, their being front-loaded. People would get this funding in the same way as they would the housing adaptation grant, after which they would then get the works done, instead of them having to go out and source the money in the first place and then be paid back after the works have been completed. This is about flexibility and speed.
What we agree on is this. This 80% grant or the investment in cavity insulation is something 500,000 houses could benefit from and it is the best and most immediate thing any household can do. It will bring a 25% cut in bills and a payback time of less than a year. As I said in my earlier contribution, banks, credit unions and others will lend for this sort of one-year investment.