Wednesday, 25 October 2006
Energy Policy: Motion
"That Seanad Éireann:
congratulates those progressive local authorities, such as Fingal County Council, who are now predicating planning permissions with energy and insulation standards which are twice as efficient as those of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government;
recognises that following the delayed introduction of an energy rating label for all houses from next year that 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 and that home owners will continue to pay more every single year into the future to pay for the heating of those homes;
is conscious that this and the studied indifference of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to our commitments under the Kyoto Protocols with regard to insulation and energy standards for the last eight years has resulted in the construction of at least 250,000 substandard houses, and that these facts may well leave the Department open to charges of misfeasance or malfeasance and the State exposed to claims for compensation; and
demands that the Government take immediate action to bring Ireland into line with Kyoto Protocols by adopting the Fingal standards as national standards and by completely prohibiting the use of hollow blocks for home building;
Additionally this House rejects completely the attempts to transfer responsibility for this mess to the citizen who is being asked to turn down the heat as part of the Power of One campaign when the truth is that this problem can only be resolved through the power of two departments."
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I look forward to the debate. This is the fourth time I have raised this issue and I know I will not make any progress, but what I am highlighting is highly irresponsible and scandalous. There is a lack of understanding, which may be deliberate or otherwise, in high places.
The energy regulations for buildings are made by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the advice of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Two Departments are caught in the middle on this issue and that is causing a problem. I am raising the issue because young couples are paying top dollar for their houses. They will pay mortgages for 30 or more years but they will also pay twice as much as they should to heat those houses. The saleability of their houses will be much reduced when the building energy rating is attached. On 1 January 2007 every new house on the market will have to have a building energy rating, which outlines how sound is its insulation, how much it costs to heat and how it retains its heat. Houses built in the Dublin area since 1998 will be in the rating's second class.
The political issue relates to the Kyoto Agreement, to which Ireland signed up in 1997. The State agreed to meet certain commitments and the Government was required to take decisions regarding heat loss and so on. Appalling decisions were taken and, according to a well publicised document released under the Freedom of Information Act 1997, the reason for them was the protection of the hollow block industry. The strategy at the time was to protect the industry. A letter signed by an official in the Department of the Environment in May 1998 states:
We have to review our technical guidance documentation due to CO2 emissions targets that we now have to meet under the Kyoto Convention 1997. However, we do not want to signal this to the outside world just yet because the next leap in building standard installation will probably involve making it difficult for hollow block construction, used widely in the Dublin area, to survive. This has implications for manufacturers of hollow blocks.
This is appalling.
In 1992, Albert Reynolds returned from the Edinburgh Summit with £8 billion in his back pocket to spend on the people. A survey conducted on where the money was spent some time later found that £6 billion of this passed through one company, CRH. These are the people we are trying to protect for all the wrong reasons. In 1998 the Minister was poorly advised to take this decision and it was completely wrong.
Since then 250,000 houses have been built in the greater Dublin region with hollow blocks, which would be used to build cow sheds in the Minister of State's constituency if people could not afford any better. They would not be used in Cork, Kerry or elsewhere in Munster to build houses but such blocks are used everywhere in Dublin for speculative housing. It is completely and utterly wrong to protect an industry that does not need protection.
On television last week, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources stated one of the reasons the changeover from hollow blocks did not take place was it would add £800 to the cost of a house and he did not want to get into the issue. The Minister of State and I debated the first-time buyer's grant on a number of occasions and I could not disagree that builders added the grant to the price of the house and, therefore, the buyer gained nothing. I opposed my Fine Gael colleagues by stating there was sense in that argument and we had to be careful about it.
However, on the other hand, if the price of the house was increased, the grant would not be added to the price because people were only paying what they could afford. The reality is the change from hollow blocks would have come out of the builder's pocket.
I draw attention to what is being done in this area. I am pleased to advise the House that Fingal County Council, in my local authority area, is attaching to planning permissions a condition in respect of energy and insulation standards, which are twice as efficient as those required by the Departments of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, whichever of those Departments we want to blame for that. I am informed that Bray, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Clare and Galway county council areas are also considering the requirement of these precise standards. A position will develop whereby we will be left behind in terms of the Government requirement and national figures in this area.
The energy label that will come into play on 1 January next, which is stated in the Government's amendment to the motion to be an advance, is being delayed. It could have been in place from 1 January this year. I asked in the House this time last year that it be brought into operation in January of this year, but the Government refused to do that because it wanted to help the building industry again. Is it any wonder that the Government is tied in so much with the building industry and that it gets such bad publicity in that respect? This was wrong.
On 1 January next year every new house put on the market will be required to have an energy rating. That rating will show that houses built with hollow blocks will be of a lower standard than houses that are insulated. That requirement should also apply to second-hand houses from next year and should not be deferred to a later date. I ask the Minister of State to examine this requirement carefully.
In their amendment, Members on the Government side congratulate the Government on its prompt action in implementing the EU energy performance directive by bringing in the new rating from 1 January 2007, but that is factually incorrect. I asked the Government in this House a year ago to implement that directive on 1 January, which was when it was due to come into operation, but it delayed its implementation. The Government side will vote here tonight on something that is incorrect; its amendment is factually incorrect. Members on the Government side should check the record of the House. This time last year when I asked for this directive to be brought into operation at the time Europe required us to do so, namely in January of this year, the Government delayed it implementation. It did not implement it early.
The amendment to the motion congratulates the Government its prompt action in implementing the EU energy performance of buildings directive, but that is not correct. The reality is that the standard of insulation has been reduced, on foot of reasons given by the Government, on the basis of the energy research group set up effectively by the Department and known as the Building Regulations Advisory Board. The Government did this to partly facilitate the building of certain constructions. The Government is effectively saying that it will not apply the required standard because it is too difficult to build or it is easier to build without adhering to it. The reason for this is that hollow block building involves one row of blocks while cavity wall building involves two rows of blocks with a space left in between, and buildings with cavity walls cannot be slapped up as quickly as those with hollow block walls. That is what the Government was considering in terms of the building of constructions. Another reason for its action was to avoid our going too far ahead of the UK where currently proposed values are less ambitious. What is being done in this area is being determined by the UK in terms of it protecting its building industry.
The last paragraph of the amendment to the motion states that the House endorses the performance-based approach, which facilitates a choice of building materials, etc., but what does that mean? I will explain it but in doing so I will probably quickly lose my audience. This is the difficulty we have in getting the media and ordinary people to consider this problem. They will not know about it until they are caught. The problem is that there are two methods of measuring in terms of insulation. One is the elemental method whereby all that is measured is the value of the insulation of what is put into the House and the other method, which is the one that has been decided to be used here, is the overall heat loss method. A recent approach taken by the building research establishment in the UK, which is independent, is the correct way, namely to measure how much energy it takes to heat a house. The reality is that hollow block built homes require twice as much energy to heat as timber framed homes and those in which other insulation methods have been used.
I guarantee that the Minister of State will not deal in his reply with what I propose. If we were to take on board what I suggest and if the Government was to bring the national figures in line with has been adopted by Fingal County Council, that would result in a 70,000 tonnes reduction in Ireland's CO2 emissions per year not only for one year but forever. If the Minister of State was to accept what I have proposed, in approximately 12 years' time we would save a million tonnes in terms of the level of our usual emissions, which would bring us well into line with what is required of us under the Kyoto Protocol. These measures could be introduced now. If they were we would gain by them. They would also result in a gain for house buyers, our energy requirements and the global environment. There is no reason the Minister of State should not accept and adopt my proposals.
I second the motion introduced by the Independent group. I have spoken on this issue previously and raised it on many occasions in this House and in other forums on which I serve. I commend the Independent group on introducing this motion.
I also commend the initiative taken by Fingal County Council on energy and insulation standards, which will require new houses to be 60% more energy efficient than the existing minimum standards and which will cope with what is essentially a Dublin-based problem, the scourge of hollow brick built homes. In taking the bull by the horns, Fingal County Council is highlighting the gross inaction by the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which have failed dismally to tackle the problem of poor energy efficiency and ignored our commitment under the Kyoto Protocol.
Another example of efficient initiatives was put in place by Longford County Council which has installed an energy efficient heating system in 40 existing houses in St. Matthew's Park, Ballymahon. This project was featured and highlighted on a recent RTE programme presented by Mr. Duncan Stewart. With mounting environmental concerns over energy use, conservation is more important than even. The concept of green buildings constitutes a way to dramatically conserve energy and to contribute to a healthy internal and external environment in various ways.
Ireland has many reasons to improve energy efficiency in houses. Finite fuel reserves and global resources are under pressure, as demonstrated by the Ukrainian-Russian gas supply dispute and Ireland currently has a very high energy dependency, of some 88%, compared with other EU member states, as shown in the breakdown of figures for 1990 to 1998. For many, the debate comes down to cost — energy efficient buildings are simply cheaper to run.
Some 40% of all energy used in Europe goes into building; thus, almost half of the energy consumed in Europe is used in building for the basic requirements of light, heat and power. Most people's idea of fuel consumption is that large industrial plants consume vast amounts of energy and they find it difficult to realise that they also use energy and that inefficiencies in energy use are to be found in their own homes. In the United States, building accounts for 37% of all energy use and 68% of all electricity use and the building industry causes six times more damage than cars in terms of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
In 2005, our greenhouse gas emissions levels were 25% above the 1990 level and if we do not reduce such emissions by 2012, the State faces a €5 billion EU fine. Our national target under the Kyoto Protocol is to be 13% above the 1990 levels, or just over 63 million tonnes a year. This figure becomes legally binding between 2008 and 2012.
By 2004, the rise was already at 23.1% and it is estimated that Ireland will overshoot the Kyoto target by more than 7 million tonnes per year by 2008. The Government is required to cap the emissions that industry is allowed to produce. Arising from this, an emissions trading system has been created, allowing companies that have exceeded their individual caps to buy credits from companies and countries which have achieved, or exceeded, their target reductions. In an attempt to avoid fines caused by its own lack of action on the Kyoto targets, the Government is to buy 3.7 million tonnes of credits per year which will cost between €180 million and more than €1 billion, depending on the price of carbon credits during the period.
In Ireland, 30% of all CO2 emissions emanates from the heating of buildings. In fact, 50% of all CO2 emissions is generated by the construction and heating of buildings. The construction industry is one of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions.
Ireland is suffering from the lack of a coherent national energy policy, for which one can point the finger at the incompetence of the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The national development plan from 1999 to 2000 set aside a mere €145 million for energy infrastructure. Both Fingal and Wicklow county councils are running pilot projects in which new houses must be 60% more energy efficient than the existing minimum standards. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council also has plans to introduce a similar scheme.
From January next, every home built in Ireland will have an energy rating, from A1 to G3, similar to that found on refrigerators and washing machines. This will extend to all houses sold or rented from January 2009. Pending the introduction of the regulations, Sustainable Energy Ireland has proposed to give all new houses a B rating. This is farcical, to put it mildly. Ratings will have to be revised within a short period of time if houses constructed to current regulations receive a B rating, which is not a true indicator of their real energy efficiency. As those living in new homes know, they are incredibly expensive to heat and extremely wasteful of energy.
In 1998 the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government engaged in a cover-up with regard to the revision of the building regulations on the grounds that such a revision would require a change in building-standard insulation, which would make it difficult for hollow-block constructions, used widely in this country, to survive. New regulations were not introduced until 2003, with an exemption for all planning applications lodged before 31 December 2003. This meant that up until the end of 2005, tens of thousands of new homes were built to 1997 regulation standards. The Government put the interests of the building industry ahead of the public interest. Once again, the hard-pressed buyer was hit by this uncaring Government. The interference of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the marketplace, to the benefit of the building industry, has inflicted an enormous cost on home owners and the environment.
Fine Gael is committed to increasing the funding available to Energy Action and all of those similarly engaged in energy efficiency initiatives with the specific target of bringing existing housing stocks up to the insulation standards of newly built homes. It is also committed to extending grant aid to householders so those who wish to convert existing home heating technologies to renewable energy can do so.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Eireann" and substitute the following:
"welcomes the recent publication of the Green Paper: Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland, its foundation on three pillars — security of supply, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness — and its commitment to secure 30% of electricity supply from renewable sources by 2020 and to improve energy efficiency by 20% over the same period;
acknowledges that the "House of Tomorrow" grant scheme, operated by Sustainable Energy Ireland, has been effective in encouraging private builders and local authorities to build housing schemes incorporating renewable energy systems;
is delighted with the response to the Government's "Greener Homes" grants for the installation of renewable energy systems in individual dwellings, which has attracted almost 8,000 grant applications since the grants were introduced in March 2006;
welcomes the progressive increase in building code energy conservation standards — in 1998, 2003 and 2006 — and supports the Government's commitment to further increase these standards in 2008;
welcomes the recent publication of a review of the national climate change strategy, looks forward to the preparation of a revised strategy, and notes the synergies between climate change and energy policy as exemplified in the Green Paper's focus on the sustainability of energy supply;
notes that the current strategy made a commitment to significantly increase insulation standards in two phases — in 2002 and 2005; and that Government surpassed this deadline by introducing the stricter standard in a single step in 2003;
congratulates the Government for its prompt action in implementing the EU energy performance of buildings directive, starting with the building energy rating of new dwellings from 1 January 2007; and
endorses the performance-based approach in the building regulations, which facilitates a choice of building materials, products and systems by designers and builders provided they comply with standards; and underpins competitiveness in the construction sector".
I welcome this debate, which is a natural follow-on from our earlier discussion on the Green Paper, Towards A Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland. One of the issues mentioned in that discussion was the Government's Greener Homes grants for the installation of renewable energy systems in individual dwellings. The Department has received almost 8,000 grant applications since the scheme was introduced in March 2006. At present, grants are only payable for wood pellet and wood chip systems but it would be useful if they were made available for other alternative systems, such as heat pumps, windmills and so forth. It was pointed out that it can be difficult to get wood pellets and wood chip in some parts of the country. I know of one company which produces such products in north Galway but availability is not uniform throughout the country. This should be investigated further because it is important that people have access to the raw materials which come under the scheme being promoted.
With regard to the Green Paper itself, the Minister made reference to economic competitiveness, the sustainability of the environment and our commitment to secure 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The overriding issue of concern, however, is that of energy efficiency and the Minister has set a target of 20%, to be achieved over the same period. Security of supply is also important and is of particular concern to older people in winter.
Climate change was raised in the context of our discussion on the proposed ban on drift net fishing. We now see exotic species of fish off our coast, which is a clear indication that the climate is changing. We must deal with this issue in the context of the global environment. An important element of any discussion on energy efficiency is the question of saving money, both in households and businesses. However, by cutting down on our energy use, we also fulfil our international obligations with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is a major global environmental issue. Our membership of the European Union and the international community obliges us to respond to global climate change in a co-ordinated way. While we have taken small steps to date, we would all like to see more progress towards the 2020 targets, to which I referred earlier. Ireland must be to the fore in continuing to make gradual improvements in the response to climate change. We are participating in the EU emission trading system and are taking all necessary measures to ensure that Ireland meets its climate change commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
Significant progress has been made since the national climate change strategy was adopted in 2000. That strategy is now being reviewed and a more ambitious one will be put in place by the end of the year. This will assist Ireland in reaching the Kyoto targets set down for the period 2008 to 2012.
Since 1997, a huge range of policies spread across many Departments and agencies have been implemented by the Government. Most recently, a bio-energy ministerial task force has been established to drive an ambitious programme of climate change measures. I hope some of these measures adopted by the Government will be successful.
I wish to comment on the hollow block construction referred to by Senator O'Toole. I am not that familiar with such hollow block construction in Galway or rural Ireland. It is mostly in Dublin that hollow block construction is used.
We will talk about the human population first. An independent study in 2000 carried out in UCD demonstrated that hollow block construction could be insulated to comply with higher thermal performance standards. I am more familiar with the two-block cavity wall, as Senator O'Toole called it. The wooden house type of structure, often referred to as American-style houses, are very popular now, but they are very expensive, as the Minister of State would appreciate.
There has been a debate involving a particular building company to get rid of the hollow block. If that company wishes to make the case, I am prepared to listen to what has been and will be said. I do not believe it is as big a problem as Senator O'Toole has suggested.
I do not foresee the Government suggesting it has any preference for a particular form of house building. The Irish Timber Frame Manufacturers' Association has co-operated with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to implement a package of measures to facilitate timber frame construction. This was recommended in a report on timber frame housing in Ireland commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Timber frame houses are clearly very effective and are more popular. We should put in place some measures to lower the cost of providing that type of house.
We have a very interesting motion that covers two Departments, as Senator O'Toole has noted. We have had some debate on the Green Paper. The progress we have made should be recognised, and I commend the Department for that. We clearly must make more progress to try to meet the standards laid down. I hope the Government can do that as soon as possible.
I would also like to compliment my colleague, Senator O'Toole, on tabling this motion. I know the Senator and Senator Brian Hayes have been pushing this matter. When I was considering it myself, I thought I had struck it lucky because I found something that was so absurd it would grab the attention of the House. Senator O'Toole beat me to it.
I am referring to this extraordinary and shameful Department memo pointed out by the Senator which states the Department does not want to signal the situation to the outside because it might create some difficulties for hollow block manufacturers. It is staggering that the welfare of the country, our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and the welfare of people purchasing these homes should be of less significance than a section of the building industry to which, lamentably, this Government appears to be still in thrall. That is something which is utterly shameful and which has not been faced in any contributions. I sincerely hope the Minister of State will have the guts to address the issue and apologise for this utterly shameful and unforgivable attitude. I hope the Irish people get to know a bit about this memorandum, the cynical attitude and the favouring of one section. There was a green cement company here but the Government did absolutely nothing to encourage it because of its commitments to the major cement groups. That is absolutely regrettable.
We are in a boom, and many houses are being built. From time to time the Government compliments itself on the number of houses being built. The problem with this is that houses consume much energy and produce various by-products. Buildings of all types account for at least 40% of our energy consumption, with a cost of €3.5 billion a year. As a result, and particularly with the projected rise in mortgages, young people especially will find great difficulties.
I am quoting to a certain extent from an article in The Irish Times by Mr. Frank McDonald from a very fine series of investigative reports. He quotes Sustainable Energy Ireland in estimating the average household's annual energy bill for electricity and space heating at approximately €1,700. Associated CO2 emissions are 8.5 tonnes a year for each household. One of the reasons for this is that the building of the houses is not energy efficient, as Senator O'Toole has indicated, particularly with the hollow block construction.
We have known this for a long time. Some ten, 20 or 30 years ago I remember people talking about the need to insulate houses, even just to keep the heat in. We were not worrying about Kyoto at that stage. We have done precious little to address this subject. This places the memo in a singularly cynical condition.
The new regulations were not introduced until 2002, and there was an exemption for planning permissions lodged before the end of the year. The consequence of that was nearly 300,000 homes being built with the old standards. They were energy inefficient. The Government, as I have stated, put the interests of one section of the cement industry above everything else.
We are part of the European Union. Whether it comes early or late and whether we procrastinate, delay and seek derogations, we will have to face our obligations eventually. The European Union is involved in this area through the performance of a buildings directive. Under that, every house offered for sale or rent will be required to have a building energy rating. It will be just like the labelling spoken of earlier.
Again, this was supposed to come into effect on 1 January 2007 for new houses.
I stand corrected. Regardless of whether the introduction was 2006, it will not be put in place yet anyway. Cynically, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, got a transitional arrangement agreement under which construction works for which planning permission was sought on or before June 30 last are exempt provided they are substantially completed by the end of June 2008. It is another exercise in procrastination, another delivery of a large number of energy inefficient houses on to the market. This is to the detriment of the customers and our obligations.
We have mentioned the Kyoto Protocol. We have already had to buy €185 million of carbon credits. If this matter is not properly addressed, it is estimated we could pay up to €5 billion in a few years' time. That is a big bill for the taxpayer.
The general standard is still relatively low because nothing has been done. This is another area in which the Minister could be involved in, part L of the building regulations. That section deals with energy efficiency. Nothing has been done to strengthen the area since we adopted the current version in 2002. It will not be revised until 2008, as once again an option not to do so was exercised by the Government. It has again weaselled out of it, deliberately avoiding the targets set.
This makes the amendment to tonight's motion one of the most laughable I have ever seen in this House. Senator O'Toole is completely correct. The penultimate paragraph has the gall to congratulate "the Government for its prompt action in implementing the EU energy performance of buildings directive". Is the Government stark raving mad? How can it congratulate itself on actions it has not taken? It is congratulating itself on an absolute dereliction of duty in this area. I am surprised even the brass necks on the other side of the House are prepared to try to pull this one off.
The issue does not just concern homes, but businesses. There are a significant number of new office blocks, particularly in Dublin. These are not especially energy efficient. Office blocks, by and large, consume twice as much energy as naturally ventilated alternatives. I do not want to be seen to attack authority all the time so I wish to acknowledge that Fingal County Council has produced an environmentally friendly building in the shape of Fingal County Hall. It is energy efficient and the type of building we could construct everywhere instead of environmentally destructive buildings.
I have spoken about the way the Government, for its own reasons which may be fairly murky, favours one sector of the cement industry over another to the disadvantage of the green cement sector. The cement industry represents a highly carbon-intensive part of our industrial framework and is the second largest industrial source of emissions. It emits into the Irish atmosphere one tonne of CO2 for every tonne of cement it produces. A tonne for a tonne is a staggering statistic but it can be reduced and has been reduced by up to 300,000 tonnes per annum, or 7%.
In 1990, when wooden houses were first constructed, they represented 1% of the total but that figure now stands at 27%. In a few years it will be 50%. Senator Kitt might have been correct that in the early days they were relatively expensive, but they are now cheaper as well as more efficient than other methods of construction. They are much more comfortable to live in, being cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They can also be built much more rapidly than other forms of house.
Information on wastage in buildings and on suggested alternatives was communicated to the Government by Mr. McCaughey, who also drew attention to the Government's obligations, in the course of evidence to the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government. He said:
Although I sent my original letter to the then Minister, Deputy Dempsey, informing him of the British Government Departments' research on 4 February 1998, nothing was done about it until 1 January 2003. During those five years, a staggering 250,000 houses were built to a standard of energy efficiency that was 35% below what it should have been.
Again, this was a bad deal for the country, the house buyer and the house owner and something of which this Government should be thoroughly ashamed.
I commend Senator O'Toole on putting this motion on the Order Paper. I am astonished at the gall of the Government in tabling such an unrealistic and not entirely honest amendment. It is about time we faced up to our obligations to our young people trying to buy decent houses that will not bankrupt them in energy costs nor spoil the environment. I congratulate the Senator.
I second the amendment. I welcome the Minister of State and the opportunity to discuss this issue as a member of the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government. The issue arises regularly and has been discussed with most of the stakeholders involved. My experience with the committee tells me that huge strides have been made in recent years. By the introduction of firm but fair policies over the past ten years, we have made huge progress. The figures speak for themselves.
Emissions from the average dwelling have fallen by 30% in the past 14 years and are on target to fall by over 50% by the time we have to meet our commitments under Kyoto. That is a sign of prudent Government.
A certain amount of hysteria surrounds these issues. For example, approximately 250,000 native Irish are employed by the construction industry. If we were to interfere with that or try to change regulations governing certain areas of the industry just because some people do not like them, we would do a disservice not only to ourselves but the country. When so many people are employed in an industry, it must be strongly regulated.
We all remember the 1970s and 1980s when one could not walk down the street in Dublin without choking on smoke and fumes. The introduction of smokeless fuel was a simple measure but has proven highly successful. Over the years, successive Governments have made huge strides in fulfilling their commitments. I see it in my own area, especially in housing for senior citizens. A particularly active group in Dublin city, Energy Action, visits senior citizens, whether widows or widowers living on their own or elderly couples and assists them in insulating their houses in simple ways such as sealing their windows, doors and attics. It is a Government subsidised initiative and very effective.
Nobody has mentioned education in the past hour of debate but this Government and previous ones have expended huge resources on educational and promotional programmes, especially in schools, where the green flag programme has been hugely successful. I know from my own children that young people's awareness of the environment and energy commitments are different from that of previous generations.
Ten or 15 years ago we could not talk about these issues because of the economy. Now, because of prudent Government, our economy is in a position whereby we can afford to do so. A large percentage of homes now have solar panels and different forms of energy generation are encouraged, which are highly subsidised by the Government and enjoy a huge take-up, with 8,000 participants since the last programme. People's awareness of the environment, the ozone layer and greenhouse gases is enhanced by constant coverage in the media. Awareness is crucial both within and without the industry. The majority of developers, builders and employers in the construction industry are very sensitive to energy and environmental issues.
Dublin City Council is another example of a local authority taking responsibility by consulting developers and builders on what materials they use and how they are used, and then attaching conditions to planning permissions that are granted. I congratulate Fingal, as does the motion, because it has made an excellent effort, which is owing to a couple of conscientious officials who are concerned about the environment. Local authorities have a huge role to play, particularly given some of their stock, especially in the inner cities, which was state of the art when it was built in the 1950s and 1960s but which is now energy inefficient and costs more to run than is economically justifiable. Significant resources are being put into this area. For example, the simple matter of replacing windows in flat complexes in recent years was a major undertaking. This saves energy not just because it keeps heat in the flat but because it prevents emissions from leaking out. Some of the promotional programmes such as "reduce, reuse and recycle" have become part of people's psyche. The introduction of brown bins is another example.
The sooner we debate incineration from the point of view of energy and emissions, the better. We have made great strides. Who would have thought ten years ago that every house in Dublin would have a black and a green bin for segregated waste? These issues have been tackled through education, promotion and sound policies. There is much more to do but if we continue to pursue present policies, we will fulfil our commitment to meeting our targets at the EU and wider international levels.
In my experience of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government there are committed officials and other individuals throughout various Departments who are aware of the environment and how to protect it. We have more to do but every country is in the same position and we have made great strides. I support the amendment to the motion and congratulate the Department on its work to date.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to this motion. We seem to speak often on energy in the Seanad which is probably a good thing because it exercises our minds and will continue to do so in the coming years. We had a major debate on the topic last week. The more debates we have on the topic the better. I commend the motion tabled by the Independent Group, although we have tabled an amendment to it. We are all trying to achieve the same end and move towards better regulations, better insulation of houses and so on.
The Government continues to propose challenges and co-ordinate actions to move towards sustainable energy and to bring Ireland into line with the Kyoto Protocol. While there are difficulties with those at the moment we are running in the right direction. The strength of the economy, which the Government continues to build and maintain, and an increasing housing sector entail a greater demand for energy than ever. That will grow in the future.
The Government continues to seek solutions to strike the balance between development and energy conservation. It is committed to introducing a rating label for all houses which will be implemented following the EU directive on energy performance and buildings. From 2007 houses will require an energy performance label to improve energy performance and awareness of energy efficiency. The draft action plan to implement this directive envisages the introduction of a building energy rating for new dwellings from 1 January 2007, for other new buildings from 1 January 2008, and for existing dwellings and other existing buildings when offered for sale or rental with effect from 1 January 2009. The Government has also introduced several grant schemes to promote sustainable energy in the housing sector.
I have met many people in my constituency recently and, amazingly, I am learning from them about their innovations to promote energy efficiency in their houses. Some months ago I received an extraordinary e-mail from somebody in County Mayo who had studied energy efficiency in his mother's house. He decided that if he put a small windmill onto her house, it would pay for itself within two to four years and after that her energy bills would be halved. This would ensure that fossil fuels were not being overused. His plan, however, ran into various difficulties because he discovered he needed planning permission for the windmill which was smaller than the satellite dishes on houses. He could not go ahead with the plan. We need to examine that issue and promote such innovative thinking.
The greener homes grant scheme offers assistance to home owners who intend to purchase new renewable energy heating systems for new or existing homes. It is administered by Sustainable Energy Ireland and aims to increase the use of sustainable energy technologies within Irish homes. It has already attracted approximately 8,000 grant applications since its introduction last March.
The house of tomorrow grant scheme provides funding to developers to encourage them to design and construct clusters of energy efficient houses. Projects integrating renewable energy features will be given preference. The Government welcomes the suggestion from the Opposition to work more closely with local authorities to develop planning permissions with energy and insulation standards to help bring Ireland in line with the Kyoto Protocol.
I saw a new housing development in Waterford recently, comprising affordable and local authority housing, where solar panels have been built into the roofs. Local authorities making efforts such as this should be encouraged.
I reject the claim that there is an attempt to transfer all responsibility to the citizen. To be successful in reaching the environmental targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol it is necessary to implement a programme that involves consultation and co-operation with all stakeholders. The Power of One campaign promotes awareness of energy efficiency and is based on the concept that each of us contributes to making a difference. The Government believes that through collective responsibility we can tackle environmental challenges. Each of us has an obligation to the next generation to create sustainable energy for the future. We are finally making great strides in this area, and although we must traverse a long path, we are moving in the right direction. I commend the Government's actions and commend the amendment to the House.
I support the motion moved by the Independent group. My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Broughan, asked this week why the Government has not prepared the national energy efficiency plan as required by the EU. With only a few months for the Government left to run, will it bring forward an energy efficiency plan? If so, when? The Power of One advertising campaign is welcome but much more needs to be done to back it up. Our energy efficiency plan needs more concrete proposals. The Labour Party spokesperson on energy, Deputy Broughan, argues Ireland should follow the lead of the European Commissioner for Energy, Andris Piebalgs, who last week launched a 75 step programme in ten priority areas, including new energy performance standards for electrical appliances and buildings.
Deputy Broughan has also pointed out that most energy use is in the home. This year, house production is expected to peak at 90,000 units per year but no substantial measures are in place to ensure new houses are energy efficient. While I welcome the small energy efficiency programmes that have been introduced, little has been done for the bulk of new houses being built. These are the houses in which many families will live for 30 years. It is an opportune time to tackle the issue. Strong regulations on energy efficiency for new homes are needed and with which builders and developers must comply. They must also be enforced, supervised and inspected.
Yesterday The Examiner carried a supplement on energy efficiency in the home, highlighting grants available for solar panels and water pumps, etc. However, one article raised a concern that training for those installing energy efficiency appliances was insufficient. The article pointed out appliances could be improperly installed, leading to more inefficiency than efficiency and turning people off them. In turn, that may defeat the objective of the grants programme. If grants are provided for energy efficiency installations, proper guidelines must be in place for their installation.
One current requirement for energy efficient houses is that they are well insulated and draughts excluded. However, with many chemicals used in home cleaning products and the risk of radon gas in some locations, the health implications of such a requirement must be kept in mind. An energy efficiency policy must be comprehensive to take into account other aspects of living in a home, such as good ventilation.
What measures are in place for public buildings, including Leinster House, to be energy efficient? For example, is there any promotion for not leaving computer and other electrical appliances on stand-by in public offices?
More money needs to be devoted to research and development into energy efficiency. The main issue of this century will be about how we will secure future energy resources. Ireland could make a niche for itself in research and development in this area but, unfortunately, little is devoted to it.
Leo Corcoran and Brian Coyle in The Irish Times today question the decision on the location of the Corrib gas terminal. A similar article was recently published on An Taisce's website. Taking heed of these arguments, will the Government order a study from Advantica to identify the optimum location for the gas processing terminal? This was not done at the outset. There is still time for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to get this matter right. There is no point in going into this with tunnel vision because——
Batt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Security of energy supply, climate change and improving the energy performance of our building stock are significant issues. They are vital for the future of our planet and the quality of life for future generations, impacting on our potential for sustainable economic growth and social development. The Government has taken major initiatives in this regard. The landmark Government Green Paper on energy is an honest acknowledgement that the country must up its game over a range of policies if it is to successfully meet the energy supply and environmental challenges facing it.
The Green Paper, Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland, launched on 1 October 2006, sets out where the Government wants Ireland's position on energy resources to be in 2020 and how it will be achieved. By 2020, Ireland will have scored well on the three energy pillars of energy policy — security of supply, environmental sustainability and competitiveness. The overall vision in the Green Paper is coherent, where these pillars interact and reinforce each other. Success in one leads to success in all. Any success depends on our willingness to lead.
In 2020, Ireland will have met the challenge of security of energy supply by the integration and interconnection with the UK and Europe. It will have achieved a diverse fuel supply regime, including optimum use of domestic fuel sources, world class fuel storage facilities, an enhanced network and transmission infrastructure and expanded oil and gas strategic reserves.
Increased integration and interconnection with other markets is crucial. Enhanced electricity interconnection with Northern Ireland and the development of a new electricity interconnector with Britain will be completed by 2012, and sooner if possible. An all-island energy market will have the capacity to deliver the cost efficiencies, transparency and investments needed to promote an efficient and secure electricity market that will contribute positively to competitiveness.
Fuel diversity is another method of ensuring security of supply. By 2020, we will be using a much changed fuel mix in our electricity supply. This will include the use of clean coal technology in further coal-based electricity generation, co-firing with biomass and a significant expansion in renewable energy production.
The second pillar of our energy policy is environmental sustainability. The Green Paper envisages an ambitious target of 30% of electricity produced by renewable energy by 2020, a doubling of the 15% target set for 2010. Renewable energy is a key to sustainability. It must become centre stage within our overall energy demand in coming years if we are to achieve the 2020 target.
We have taken the first step towards 2020 with the new €119 million renewable energy feed-in tariff, REFIT. At the end of September, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources announced support, under REFIT, to 55 new renewable powered electricity generating plants. These plants will have a combined capacity of more than 600 MW, where wind power accounts for 98% of all the new support. This additional capacity is capable of generating power for 1 million homes. It can also prevent the emission of more than 2 million tonnes of polluting greenhouse annually.
The Green Paper sets the target of a 20% reduction in energy demand by 2020. Through energy efficiency, individuals can contribute to the 2020 vision. Relatively small changes by each of us can have a major impact on our environment, security of supply and competitiveness. This is the basis of the recently launched Power of One campaign. I regret that the Private Members' motion was somewhat belittling of this imaginative initiative. It is reasonable to seek to achieve changed behaviour in industry and in the home by showing how to start with small actions and build on the new behaviour.
The third pillar of the Green Paper is competitiveness. We want to see, well before 2020, a stable and transparent market and regulatory and investment framework. This must be underpinned by infrastructural and technological development. Such a framework will enable the energy sector to be competitive and to support national competitiveness in a high-growth economy and inclusive society. High global energy costs are now a fact of life, with the inevitable impact on prices. A large proportion of the higher prices experienced in Ireland is explicable by our fuel mix and the existing structural constraints of the market. These factors limit our ability to manage and mitigate future energy price increases. Our focus therefore must be on addressing controllable costs.
To enhance competition, the go-ahead has been given to plan the construction of a 500 MW electricity interconnector between Wales and Ireland by 2012 or sooner. This vital strategic asset should remain in public hands and will be owned by EirGrid on completion. The CER and EirGrid will fast-track the design of a competition and the technical studies respectively, to ensure a speedy completion. The Green Paper allows a period of two months for debate and public consultation and the comments of Senators will be particularly welcome.
In July the Government published a report on the implementation of the national climate change strategy, entitled Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance. This report is an important milestone in the development of national climate change policy. The 2000 climate change strategy set out the framework for Ireland's response to global warming and to achieving its target under the Kyoto Protocol. The report provides a comprehensive update on policy developments in the sectors of the economy responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. It also sets out measures that have been put in place since 2000 to address those emissions.
The report shows that up to 8 million tonnes of emissions reductions can be expected each year between 2008 and 2012 with measures that are already in place. These measures include strengthened energy requirements in the building regulations relating to the conservation of fuel and energy; regulations requiring all new cars for sale to be labelled with fuel economy and CO2 emissions information; meeting our target under the renewable energy directive; excise relief of more than €200 million between 2006 and 2010 to reduce emissions from transport — equivalent to taking 76,000 cars off the road; fewer and younger animals in the national herd as a result of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy; and the Government's forestry programme.
Ireland has some way to go to reach its Kyoto Protocol target. However, we are not alone among EU member states and are in a much better position than some.
Batt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Emissions in Ireland have been on a downward trend in the last several years and this trend must be judged in the context of sustained economic growth over the past ten years. There are an additional 300,000 people living in Ireland since 2002, bringing our population to 4.2 million, and there has been an increase in industrial production of more than 300% since 1990. House completions are now running at in excess of 80,000 units per annum; Ireland has the highest house building rate in the EU at more than 20 new dwellings per 1,000 population.
Emissions from the average dwelling fell by 30% between 1990 and 2004. This was owing to higher building insulation standards under the national building regulations and a significant shift away from solid fuel use towards less carbon intensive fuels such as natural gas. Continued decreases in emissions are projected for the period 2008 to 2012 due to ongoing improvements in building efficiencies and continued fuel switching. By 2012, average emissions per household will have fallen to 55% of their 1990 level, or by almost 4 tonnes per household.
The uptake of energy efficient practices is being stimulated by House of Tomorrow grants for housing schemes, greener homes grants for individual houses and the installation of renewable energy systems in local authority social housing schemes. As well as promoting energy efficiency technology, such initiatives are immensely valuable in allowing the Government to assess the feasibility of requiring, at some stage in the future, the use of renewable energy technologies through the building code. It would be inappropriate to make such technologies mandatory without a full assessment of the costs and benefits of doing so through the relevant regulatory impact analysis, which is now mandatory for all categories of proposed regulations.
Despite Ireland's success in decoupling our economic growth from growth in greenhouse gas emissions, current projections show that we expect to be an average of 7 million tonnes in excess of our Kyoto target during the 2008 to 2012 period if no further action is taken. Ireland's approach to bridging this gap is based on three broad strands, namely, further measures throughout the economy to reduce emissions in addition to those already in place; emissions reductions or purchase of carbon allowances by installations participating in the EU emissions trading scheme; and use of the Kyoto Protocol flexible mechanisms to address any remaining shortfall. The Government has already decided that the emissions trading sector will be responsible for 3 million tonnes of the 7 million tonnes gap. We have also begun to put in place further measures building on the existing measures described in Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance. Many of these are set out in the Government's Green Paper on energy. We will prepare a new national climate change strategy that will provide a sound basis for Ireland not only to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets but to set a course for the more stringent emissions reductions that are likely to be required in the period beyond 2012.
The criticism in the Private Members' motion of our building energy performance standards is not justified. The building regulations aimed at conserving energy have been updated and improved by this Government. They were introduced in 1992 and the standards improved in 1998. Changes with effect from 2003 and 2006 require higher thermal performance and insulation standards for the construction and reconstruction of both dwellings and non-domestic buildings. This will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 300,000 tonnes per annum by 2012 and meet the target set in the national climate change strategy.
That is not to say the building code standards are perfect or immutable. They must be kept under review in the light of improvements in insulation technology, the development of more energy efficient boilers and the emergence of renewable energy technologies. For this reason, and as required by the EU energy performance of buildings directive, the Government is committed to reviewing part L standards every five years.
Batt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The next revision of part L standards for dwellings is due in 2008.
In this context, I endorse the initiative of Fingal County Council in using the planning process to impose building energy performance standards in excess of part L of the building regulations in certain areas.
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This practical experience will feed into our upgrading of the regulations which apply at national level.
The Private Members' motion is also critical of the continued use of the hollow concrete block method of house construction, an area of interest to Senators O'Toole and Norris. I listened to two very erudite men who, as part of their scientific education——
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——I would have expected to have ascertained all the facts before reaching a conclusion.
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One would have expected their research to have been complete rather than half-baked. One would also have expected their honesty and declared lack of gall, which they would attribute to others, to have divorced them from the sound bite in order to deal with the facts.
I wish to set out the facts on the hollow block issue. It is important when one receives information under the Freedom of Information Act that one reads the full text. In the information concerned, one would have read that it could adversely impact on hollow block manufacturers who generally also manufacture solid blocks. However, one would also have read that it would have an adverse impact on the house building capacity in Dublin where hollow block construction is used as a quicker and cheaper method of house construction.
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One would have seen that the other negative impact mentioned, and emphasised so strongly as a saving to the house purchaser, was that it would increase the cost of housing in Dublin owing to the higher labour and material costs associated with solid block in this construction.
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——and Senator Norris, in particular, to an august body, namely, University College Dublin. The broadly based Building Regulations Advisory Body commissioned an independent study by the Energy Research Group, UCD. That was published in November 2000.
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The results of that study showed that the hollow block construction could be insulated to comply with the proposed higher thermal performance standards.
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That is a fact.
I emphasise that the Government does not have a preference for any particular form of house building. The Irish Timber Frame Manufacturers Association and the Department are co-operating closely to implement a package of measures to facilitate timber frame construction as recommended in a report on timber frame housing in Ireland commissioned by the Department. We are also considering steel frame building.
The Private Members' motion is critical of the transitional exemptions from the 2003 revised Part L standards of new dwellings for which planning permission was applied for on or before 31 December 2002 provided the dwellings concerned were substantially completed by 31 December 2005. Such transitional exemptions are a common feature of major changes in the building code and are designed to avoid delays in the commencement of new houses which are at an advanced stage of planning.
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I am not. Without such pragmatic and temporary exemptions, the house building programme would not be running at the current all time record level now approaching 90,000 new dwellings per annum.
I wish to clarify the position as regards the timetable for the introduction of building energy rating. The EU energy performance of buildings directive set 1 January 2006 as the deadline for legal transposition of the directive. However, the EU directive recognises the administrative and technical complexities of introducing building energy rating and allows an additional period of up to three years, ending on 1 January 2009, for the introduction of such rating.
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Ireland is one of only two EU member states which are known to have produced an integrated action plan for the implementation of all aspects of the directive. The plan was published on 1 August last. Ireland has made substantial progress in the legal transposition of the directive. Ireland is one of only 11 member states against whom the European Commission is not taking infringement proceedings for failure to transpose the directive.
The action plan proposes that the building energy rating will be phased in as follows: energy rating of new dwellings from 1 January 2007; energy rating of new non-domestic buildings from 1 July 2008; and energy rating of existing buildings when offered for sale or letting from 1 January 2009.
These are challenging deadlines but they are evidence of the Government's commitment to improving energy efficiency. I am sure the House will agree that in the light of the policies I have outlined, the Government has a very creditable and ambitious sustainable energy plan. In the circumstances, I hope the House will accept that Ireland has a creditable record in implementing building energy rating, notwithstanding the complexities involved.
I wish to refer to Senator Tuffy, who is not here. The last amendment of the building regulations in 2002 increased energy performance standards by between 23% and 33%, depending on the size and type of house. That is a substantial increase by any measure, and for a few years it put Irish standards ahead of those of the UK.
I commend Senator O'Toole and the Independent group on tabling this motion tonight. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, for attending and peddling exactly the same arguments made to me when I first raised this matter in 1999 as housing spokesperson for my party in the other House. The Minister of State's speech could have been cut and pasted from what his colleague, Deputy Noel Dempsey, the former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, told me in 1998 and 1999.
The use of hollow block construction in the Dublin residential property market is one of the greatest scams in the construction industry and took place under the noses of successive Government for the past 20 years. A future Government will have the courage to stop this practice and ensure decent homes for young people who wish to buy in the capital. No other part of this country accepts the use of hollow block construction.
The Minister of State is right when he endorses the view of UCD research published in 2000: "The results of this study show that hollow block construction could be insulated to comply with proposed higher thermal performance standards." The issue turns on the word "could". There is no doubt that it can be used, but even if that construction method can meet the thermal performance range to which the Minister of State refers when he speaks of technical guidance part L of the building regulations, it requires twice as much time as cavity wall insulation, three times as much time as timber frame housing and twice as much insulation foam to make the house and external walls safe. That is the problem.
There is no doubt that hollow block construction can be used without any problem, but it requires twice as long as cavity wall insulation. In a booming property market, it is no surprise that everyone wants to slap houses up quicker, that shortcuts are made, and that inspectors are not present, as Senator Tuffy said. Under such circumstances, we have a problem.
We have built 250,000 houses in the past seven years in the greater Dublin area with insufficient thermal efficiency by the Government's own measure. If one speaks to builders in London, Brussels or anywhere else in Europe, they laugh when told that the Irish Government permits nine-inch hollow block construction. One is laughed out of court, and the request under the Freedom of Information Act 1997 to which Senator O'Toole referred when moving the motion confirmed that the then Minister of State, the former Deputy, Bobby Molloy, was told that in 1998.
This is a serious issue, and the Government has allowed 250,000 houses to be built in Dublin over the past seven or eight years to an insufficient thermal standard, since it failed to outlaw the practice of nine-inch hollow-block construction. I am very happy that Senator O'Toole used this forum to comment tonight under parliamentary privilege.
The last time I raised this issue, in 1999, I received three threatening legal letters from the product's manufacturers regarding what they felt were my outrageous remarks concerning that form of construction. I am therefore glad to use the privilege of this House to record what most people in this country do not know, namely, that if one lives in Dublin, one has an inferior house because the Government refused to enforce the decent thermal efficiency standards that apply everywhere else in the country.
When preparing for this motion, I spoke to the architect who heads local authority housing at South Dublin County Council about nine-inch hollow block construction. He told me that not a single local authority house had been built in Ireland in the past ten years using nine-inch hollow blocks. The method is simply not used; again one would be laughed at. The building standards for social housing do not apply to the speculative market, and that is unacceptable. If one speaks to any group of architects, they will laugh one out of court regarding the notion that they would accede to nine-inch hollow block construction.
The case is proven, but the Minister of State is at it again tonight. When I first raised this issue, I was told that I was trying to stop housing construction in Dublin by demanding that young couples have the same standard of insulation enjoyed in Limerick, Cork and Galway. However, because it is Dublin and we must slap the houses up quicker, we are told that we should have a different standard.
I was told in 1998 that I was trying to halt housing construction in Dublin. The same argument was peddled in the House tonight in a cut-and-paste job from 1998. This is an absolute scam, and in many respects it is too late because we have allowed the situation to develop under our noses for the past eight years owing to an inept Government that refuses to confront international evidence regarding hollow block construction and is far too close to the building industry when it comes to enforcing the standards that apply elsewhere in Europe.
The biggest investment a young couple or individual will make in life is purchasing a home, and we have allowed them to buy houses in Dublin built to insufficient insulation standards. They will pay a double price when the new European regulations enter force. Not only will their house be insufficiently insulated, they will have to pay a penalty to be imposed in coming years. We must put this issue on the agenda, and I compliment the Independent group on doing so. We must highlight that the Government sat back and allowed the situation to develop. Shame on it and on the Minister of State for his reply. I hope that this issue will be top of a new Administration's agenda upon reaching office.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank Senator O'Toole for tabling the motion. Of all those on the Independent benches and the Opposition side of the House, I tend to agree with him the most, on almost everything. However, that is not the case with the entirety of this motion.
Looking at the text, I join in congratulating Fingal County Council and those others throughout the country that followed suit. Carlow, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and others are considering similar guidelines. They are to be commended on what they are doing. However, that is about all in the motion with which I agree, and I will support the amendment.
Fingal County Council used section 19 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to override current building regulations requirements in local area plans. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent any other local authority from doing the same while we carry out the measured and balanced review of overall building regulations that is due. I congratulate the councillors, who elect most of us in the House, on their vision in voting through those amendments to parts of the local area plan. I know that Fingal County Council, in the Balbriggan south-east local area plan, was first to do so. It is reasonable to mention that it did so in April 2006.
It is clear that hollow block construction seems less than efficient in the context of the other possibilities. It is also clear that all agree that it is possible to insulate it properly. I have an interest to declare, since I am involved in the auction business and I have not witnessed a hollow block being used on any building site that I have attended for a long time.
In the context of other building regulations, it is also fair to say that no Administration in the history of the State has done more to improve matters. The original regulations from 1992 were improved in 1998 and 2002, and we continue to make improvements.
Senator Brian Hayes mentioned that we were threatened in 1998 by business interests that manufacture particular types of brick. I will not condemn or promote those interests, any more than I will promote the companies that produce the type of house pushing this debate and which have engaged public relations people who operate in senior political circles, not Fianna Fáil.
Market choice is another issue and involves a cultural factor. People looking for a house are not looking for energy efficiency, but I welcome the fact that in January we will have an energy rating on every house.
I have a serious problem with the attitude expressed in the motion to the Power of One campaign. We need to address the culture of wastage of which we are all guilty. We spoke earlier today about the carnage on our roads at weekends. The solution is not about enforcement or the speed of cars but about changing the culture among people. Equally, the Power of One campaign can do most in the shortest period of time in the context of energy efficiency. For example, how many of us at home or here have a laptop plugged in while not in use? How often do we leave our mobile phones plugged in, even when they are switched off? These actions involve a significant waste of energy, but could be simply addressed. I commend the Government on the Power of One campaign, on its greener home scheme, the various grant aid programmes for combined heat and power and the excise relief scheme for biofuels, etc.
I would be the first to admit that we have a lot done, more to do. In his speech the Minister of State outlined some of the targets we have set. I would like to think we could set the bar higher or push the boat out further. This would be possible if the unit in the Department could be further resourced to bring forward the review on building regulations. We could then see if it was possible to universally adopt recommendations that would do, such as those adopted by Fingal County Council and other local authorities. In the meantime, there is nothing to stop other county councils from doing the same and we would encourage them to do so. Fingal County Council enjoys the full support of the Minister and the various Departments involved.
We need to do more. Under the current national development plan some €6 billion was originally allocated for roads, but only €145 million to energy. We should bear this in mind in the preparation of the next development plan and ensure we provide sufficient resources so that we can reach and exceed our targets. It would be even better to try to push the boat out.
I welcome the fact that we have had two debates on the issue of energy in a period of three weeks. They are possibly the only two debates we have had on the issue in the past five years. Energy is one of most important challenges to face the country and we should factor in at least four debates a year on the issue. I thank Senator O'Toole for raising the matter. I support the amendment and reiterate our maxim — a lot done, more to do.
Senator MacSharry has been well trained on the party message. I commend Senator O'Toole on his tenacity in following this problem over the years. He has raised the issue on several occasions, as has Senator Brian Hayes.
Having been involved in research within the universities, I hate to see the independent study by the energy research group in UCD, published in 2000, misused by the Minister when he says that the results of the study show that hollow block construction could be insulated. Nobody has said it could not be insulated. One could insulate a wigwam which would be quick and cheap to erect and take up little space. However, nobody suggests we should do something like this.
We agree hollow block houses could be insulated, but the problem is that this means young people will have to buy houses on which they will have to spend significant amounts to ensure they are energy efficient. This means they must spend significantly more than if the house had been built with solid blocks initially. The Government has known this for some time. It appears from Senator O'Toole's research that a great favour was done for producers of hollow blocks by suggesting they were quicker and cheaper, etc.
The Minister did not mention the word "quality". Does it matter what we erect or what sort of houses people must live in? Why can we not try to ensure the quality of what is being put in place. It is all very well to try to build them quickly and cheaply, but we need to ensure we also have quality housing, particularly in the social and affordable housing area.
A person contacted me recently about an apartment he was offered under the affordable housing scheme. People are desperate to get apartments, but this apartment was tiny. The kitchen was like a galley, rather like something one would find in a holiday apartment in Majorca or similar, which is fine for two weeks. There was no room for the fridge in the kitchen and it had to be in the utility room. There was space for a dishwasher, but what is the need for a dishwasher in that size of an apartment? The washing machine also needed to be in the utility area. The kitchen had no room for a table and only had a small worktop.
In the living room there was room for a sofa and an armchair, but no room for a table at which one could eat. We are trying to promote family life, but I do not know where two people could have sat to eat in these apartments unless they had TV dinners on their knees. It is outrageous to encourage people to live in such situations. The apartment had two bedrooms. The second bedroom was there to allow the owner let it to help pay for the mortgage because even though the apartment was part of affordable housing, it still cost €300,000.
If we continue to build and promote such schemes, we cannot complain about the fact that we have problems within family life. Who could bring up children in such situations? If people in such small apartments have a child, they have little room for them, but because they buy under the affordable housing scheme, they cannot sell it for ten years without paying the market price. This is an appalling situation for any young couple.
In the context of energy, the apartments have the old dinosaurs of heating — storage heaters — in very small rooms. These are expensive to run and take up an enormous amount of space. Also, electricity has risen 30% this year. We need to address this not just as a housing issue but as an issue that concerns the social fabric of the country. These apartments are cheap and quick to erect, but impossible to live in.
I commend Senator O'Toole on having raised this motion. The debate is timely because we must consider the sort of environment we want to bring forward for our young people. We spoke about young people being out racing their cars, but there is not much point in them sitting in if they live in this sort of situation. I suggest to the Minister of State that his response had little quality.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Killeen, to the House and thank those who have contributed on this issue. This is an issue I and Senator Brian Hayes have been pushing for many years.
In opening the debate I said that because the issue crossed two Departments, Ministers did not always get the proper flow of information to help them understand the issue. Having listened to my colleagues on the other side, I am convinced of this. No Member on the Government side set out deliberately to mislead the House, but those Senators were given misinformation. I could recite what they said. For example, Senator Brady spoke honestly and with self-belief about a loss of employment. However, the reverse would be the case. The Government did not change construction methods from hollow block building to cavity walls or timber-frame housing in 1998 because it would have needed a greater employment input. There was no question of reducing employment. Cavity block walls can be built more quickly, the only correct argument made by the Minister of State, but it is unacceptable in terms of quality.
I want Senator Brady to consider this matter. I know why he stated that emissions have decreased; the reasons were set out by the Minister of State in his speech. I hope that I do not lose people when I explain my point because I do not have time to address other points. The Minister of State said: "Emissions from the average dwelling fell by 30% between 1990 and 2004". What is the average dwelling? The statement is factual, but a main reason for the reduction is that one in every three houses are timber-framed or other constructions. The briefers did not tell Senator Brady that, since 1990 — the date used by the Minister of State in all of his references — our emissions have increased by 29%. I am not suggesting that the Senator misled the House deliberately, as he was not given that information.
I wish to be taken up on another matter. I have read every piece of research and information, including the reports of NuTech Consultants, UCD and the Building Research Establishment, and all of the regulations. I have also spoken to architects and people in the building industry. I am prepared to talk and would enthusiastically go out of my way to meet anyone who can disprove even a word of my comments tonight. Quicker than anyone else, I will correct myself if I have misled the House in the slightest way. I am not in the habit of tabling motions and do not want to take cheap shots at the Government, but I am trying to point out the issues.
Senator Brian Hayes picked up on the Minister of State's comment that the UCD report claims that "hollow block construction could be insulated to comply with the proposed higher thermal performance standards". Does anyone want to know how this could be done? I dare not put it on the record of the House, but the corner boys in Dingle long ago had a great saying about "could", namely, "my aunt could be my uncle if she had" whatever. "Could" is a word I do not accept in this context.
One house in 1998 was built with cavity walls — two rows of blocks — and another was built using cavity blocks. How could one insulate them to the standards found in Fingal or wherever? In the case of the former, one would drill holes along the bottom or top of the wall and fill it with insulation, a job that could be done in two hours or half a day at most and that would achieve full insulation standards. In the case of the latter, it would be impossible to insulate because the blocks are laid across one another and the cavity between them cannot be filled. In that situation, one must take everything out of the house and off the walls — possibly including the plaster, although the UCD research avoided telling us what one would need to do — and insulate the inside or outside or build another wall. It would be too much work. Saying "could" is unacceptable.
Senator Kitt made important and telling points with which I do not disagree, but he also made a substantial, accurate and articulate point about grant applications and so on. It is frustrating that the grants given to people to erect energy saving devices such as solar panels actually serve to replace energy needlessly that was initially sustainable. We should provide those measures for houses that cannot meet the requirements.
The Minister of State did not answer the question asked by Senator Norris and I, that is, why did we pay €185 million in fines? Senator MacSharry is correct in that we need to raise the bar, but we have not done so. How can one deal with this matter? If we were to put the Fingal conditions, which have been examined by a number of local authorities and supported on the far side of the House, in place elsewhere, it would save 70,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from new houses each year. During the next 12 years or so, we would save 1 million tonnes per year of CO2 emissions and considerable amounts of money, helping us to meet our Kyoto Protocol obligations. It could be done with the stroke of a pen. Will the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party discuss this suggestion when none of us is present to contradict it?
I contradicted the Power of One campaign to get a reaction more than anything else. There is nothing wrong with the campaign, but using it to replace action at Government level is unacceptable. In terms of the Kyoto Protocol, is a failure to regulate now or to extend the Fingal conditions to the rest of the country not irresponsible? Why are we not doing so? The Minister of State spoke about meeting sustainable energy requirements in house building. It may be an important issue, but I am not pushing for it. Rather, I am pressing to advance matters.
The Minister of State was partially right when he told the House that he worked within the EU requirement of three years, but why have we waited three years and pushed the date from 1 January 2005 to 1 January 2007? Why are we delaying the requirement for an energy rating for second-hand houses and why must people buying houses in the next two years wait until 2008 for that rating? This question was not asked, for which reason I tabled this motion. We are doing young people buying houses a disservice in terms of the global environment and our requirements under the Kyoto Protocol. We are making a mistake. Even if the Government votes against my motion, I ask that it take on board the issues raised.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 26 (Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brian Hayes, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 18 (James Bannon, Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Mary Henry, Joe McHugh, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Shane Ross, Sheila Terry)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Glynn and Minihan; Níl, Senators Henry and O'Toole.
Amendment declared carried.