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What will the newly-announced 'Just Transition Commissioner’ for Bord na Móna do?

Brexit and Climate Action were to the two overriding focuses in this year’s Budget.

Image: RollingNews.ie

WHAT WILL A Just Transition Commissioner do and why were there no grant increases to encourage people to switch to electric cars?

These were two questions posed to the Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton yesterday. 

Climate action is one of the key themes of this years Budget, he said, adding that the government wants to “empower” people to make the change. 

One of the new initiatives announced is the appointment of a Just Transition Commissioner. 

The minister said this person, who has yet to be announced or hired, will engage with all the relevant stakeholders in the Midlands, including Bord na Móna and the Midlands Regional Transition team. 

Diversifying

Bord na Móna – the commercial semi-state company – announced it was closing 17 active bogs last year.

The company also announced staff redundancies of up to 430 employees, and with plans to completely end peat energy usage by 2028 and move into renewable energy production (like wind farms), the company is on the hunt for ways to diversify into new sectors.

The new commissioner’s job is to be the “person on the ground” said Bruton, who will feed back ideas to government as part of the just transition plan, which is currently being headed up by the Department of An Taoiseach. 

Bruton said the new commissioner is “pivotal” in ensuring the the focus is not lost on finding new employment routes for the workers in the Midlands.  

“If you want to make just transition a reality it can’t just be the occasional visits by ministers of government,” said Bruton. 

While quick to add that he would be happy to pay a visit to the midlands as often as he can, he believes “some sort of a permanent link” between stakeholders and government is needed, adding that it has worked in other matters such as the North Inner City taskforce.

He said communication between communities and government is key, adding that it is important that everyone is listened to. 

How much will this new commissioner be paid? 

“We haven’t decided that yet,” said the minister.

The idea was floated by the Green Party prior to Budget day, when the party leader Eamon Ryan said work needs to begin now on finding new jobs for people working in the fossil fuel industry. He highlighted the example of car mechanics, and questioned what jobs they would be doing in the future if and when people switch to electric vehicles.

Electric car grants 

In his speech announcing the Budget 2020 measures yesterday, Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said he will be allocating an extra €3 million for electric vehicle infrastructure, which will double the number of on-street charge points installed next year.

The government will also be supporting a new scheme to install communal charge points at apartment blocks, while €8 million will be allocated to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to maintain grants for those purchasing electric cars. 

However, there were no increase in the grants to incentivise people to switch. Why so?

Bruton said that it is the government’s aim with the carbon tax to get the message out there that “now’s the time to to make a switch”, but the cost of an electric car, at a minimum is around €17,000.

“The challenge is as we double penetration of electric vehicles each year, the challenge is to keep up to maintain grants at that level, because obviously as you double your budget doubles,” said Bruton. 

Such a move was recently flagged in a departmental report on electric vehicles which warned against increasing incentives and grants for electric vehicles. 

The report noted that the increase in the uptake of electric cars in Ireland over the next decade “could pose a substantial risk to the stability of the State’s finances”.

The government’s spending review into the incentives offered to people to switch to electric cars stated that increased uptake will lead to significant declines in Exchequer revenues from motor and fuel taxation.

While there are a number of incentives to get people to switch, the minister believes focusing on building up the charging network will “build up confidence in using electric vehicles”.

The minister defended the lack of grant increases in this year’s Budget, stating that government grants have supported a five-fold increase in electric vehicle purchases since 2016. 

A spokesperson for the minister said public funding is only part of the solution, stating that government will introduce new regulations to increase uptake and convenience.

These include all new residential buildings (and those undergoing major renovation) with more than ten parking spaces being required to install ducting to provide for the future installation of charge points in all parking spaces.

All new commercial buildings (and those undergoing major renovation) with more than ten parking spaces will also be required to install at least one charge point and ducting to provide for the future installation of charge points in at least one in every five parking spaces.

Also, from 2025, all non-residential buildings with more than twenty parking spaces will be required to install a minimum number of charge points.

While additional grants are probably not on the cards for electric vehicles, the government is betting on the cost of these vehicles to fall in the coming years. In the meantime, plans are afoot to ensure the infrastructure is there if and when the numbers of electric vehicles on the road increases. 

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