Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Schools Refurbishment

2:30 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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In the context of the pressing problems arising as a result of climate change, this matter relates to giving leadership within local communities. We need to get the message across that we all can contribute to reversing the damage caused by the burning of fossil fuels, etc. We can do so by retrofitting primary schools and installing solar panels in order that they can produce electricity, not only for their own consumption but also for that of the wider community. We need to work hard on this because retrofitting has not been incorporated into the planning permissions granted in respect of some new primary and secondary schools in the past two years. Doing what I suggest would show that leadership is being given at national level and in local communities.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McHugh, I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue, which gives me the opportunity to outline to the House the Department's plans for upgrading older schools. As he is aware, the Department will be investing €8.4 billion in school buildings over the lifetime of Project Ireland 2040. The latter will give rise to a 70% increase in the school building budget and this will be targeted at delivering the twin objectives of catering for the continued increase in demographics and a greater focus on refurbishment and upgrade of existing school stock. The Governnent remains committed to delivering existing projects under the schools building programme as soon as possible.

Project Ireland 2040 provides the investment necessary to implement the commitments in the Action Plan for Education to reform and modernise the school curriculum by committing to a physical education, PE, hall build and modernisation programme, starting in the second half of the Project Ireland 2040 period, which will ensure that students in all post-primary schools will have access to state-of-the-art PE facilities. This will be particularly apt in the context of the roll-out of PE as a leaving certificate subject. The next phase of the summer works scheme, which is currently open for applications, will facilitate a school laboratory modernisation programme.

The Department of Education and Skills has been at the forefront of design with respect to sustainable energy in school buildings since the development of its energy research programme in 1997. Since 2017, it has partnered with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland in an energy-efficient retrofit pilot scheme for schools. This programme is focusing on medium to deep retrofit measures, including fabric, electrical and mechanical upgrades, to improve the energy efficiency of existing schools. The longer-term outcome of the pilot will be to create an accurate and scaleable model for energy-efficient retrofits of schools across Ireland.

In the national development plan, €2.5 billion is identified for the refurbishment and construction of schools. Part of this is an intention to undertake a deep energy retrofit of schools built prior to 2008.This pilot scheme will pave the way for and inform a much larger national schools' energy retrofit programme based on the range of topical retrofit options that will have been tried and tested during the scheme. Some 16 schools have received energy retrofits under the programme to date. The total expenditure involved was approximately €7 million. For 2019, proposed works for 17 schools are being progressed through tender and contract award stage.

The Department's technical guidance documents, TGDs, set the benchmark for sustainable design in school buildings with a clear focus on energy efficiency. Schools that are designed and built in accordance with the TGDs must achieve an A3 building energy rating. Results show that new schools being built to the 2017 building regulations have A3 building energy ratings and are also - as has been assessed - up to 20% more efficient than required under the existing regulations. All new technologies and approaches are tested to ensure compatibility with school design and operational requirements. Successful and repeated results are then incorporated into the new school designs and refurbishments. In the interest of sustainability, it is critical that renewable applications are properly suited to schools' needs and are not just applied for the sake of attaching "renewable" tag to those schools. It is also critical that we minimise the demand for energy before we invest in renewable applications. That is reasonable. This has been assisted in previous years by means of the wall and attic insulation and the water conservation programmes.

The Department of Education and Skills has been using test schools to evaluate the suitability of renewable energy options for schools for the past 17 years. More than 40% of the research programme features renewable aspects. All new schools built in accordance with the current building regulations have a minimum of 10% of their energy supplied by photovoltaic, PV, panels and are future proofed to take advantage of developing technologies as they become available. While it is not a planning requirement, major refurbishment projects facilitate the provision of PV installations to meet a base-load requirement - this is the maximum electrical load of the school used outside school hours - to optimise the performance of the system. In the context of projects that will be carried out under the 2020 summer works scheme and that will involve electrical upgrades, PV panels will be provided in order that the base-load requirements can be met and the performance of the system optimised. The potential for the use of renewables in schools is under continued review by the research programmes of the Department's energy research programme through continued research and by monitoring improvements in technology and the marketplace.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. He referred to the past 17 years in the context of this programme. Should we not take a more aggressive approach to school renewal projects by using all available resources in order to ensure that there is energy saving, that value for money is secured and that oil and other fossil fuels will not be burned unnecessarily in order to provide heating. Have we adopted an approach that is sufficiently aggressive? The Government should be providing leadership in local communities by showing that this can be done with school premises. People would then learn that they can do it in their houses. We need to get that message across. We need to work far harder on this issue.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I agree with the Senator. With the TGDs as a benchmark and with the energy efficiency retrofit pilot scheme already well under way, the Department has demonstrated its commitment to achieving greater energy efficiency. The pilot scheme has already cleared a path for the wider retrofit programme, funded under the national development plan, to follow.That, in itself, has sent out a message to other schools and the wider public that the Department is determined to do what we set out to do in the 2040 programme. Schools currently being built to the 2017 building regulations have already an A3 energy rating. It is good to see that they are 20% more efficient than required. That is a clear message that is being sent out, including to the Government and future Governments, that it works. The pilot scheme is very effective and is being noticed by other schools and the general public.