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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Minister told Dáil that home retrofit scheme had €6 million left. Seven weeks later, it closed down.

Contractors who worked in providing them have said the pulling of the scheme is a “massive slap in the face”.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER RICHARD BRUTON told the Dáil as recently as seven weeks ago that there was €6 million left in funding this year for the Deep Retrofit Pilot Scheme, which this week was closed because the authority is “unable to offer any further funding”. 

On Tuesday, homeowners who were planning to retrofit their homes were informed that there is no more funding for a pilot grant scheme from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), and all open applications would be suspended.

The pilot was launched in 2017 and committed funding for people looking to perform a “deep retrofit” on their homes, which would mean significantly upgrading and improving their energy efficiency. The SEAI pilot grant was to provide 50% towards the cost of the deep retrofit, which can run into well over €100,000 to have done. 

The government’s Climate Action Plan sets out what it referred to as “highly ambitious targets” of 500,000 retrofits as part of wider efforts to tackle climate change. However, this pilot scheme predates this action plan.

As recently as June, Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton said the Deep Retrofit Pilot Scheme provided “vital, on the ground, evidence of how to overcome the technical and economic challenge of a deep retrofit”.

Bruton said: “This year I have allocated €7 million to the scheme. At end May 2019, €1 million had been paid out in grants. As projects are completed further grants will be drawn down and I expect the full allocation to be spent by year end.”

In June, Bruton said that 219 of the 265 applications submitted this year remained “under evaluation”.

The pilot closed to applications on 19 July, with those who submitted before this date under the assumption the grant would be provided.

TheJournal.ie understands that applicants needed to have their refurbishment completed by the end of September to qualify for reimbursement for the retrofit. 

Now, those who’d already started the retrofit to make sure it was done in time for the end of September deadline will now be left out of pocket. And it won’t be well into 2020 until clarity is provided on the future of the scheme. 

One homeowner who applied for the retrofit scheme as part of a wider rebuild to his home said he was “gobsmacked” when he heard the news yesterday. 

“All along, our understanding was that this was exactly the kind of house they wanted on the scheme,” he said, of his home which was built in the 1930s in Dublin.

People will say ‘you shouldn’t have started to build without the approval’. My – and the architect’s and builder’s – understanding was that this is the way process works. The process takes so long you can’t but start. 

‘Up the garden path’

Kieran Carew of Fast Eco Build – an insulation contractor – told TheJournal.ie his company had submitted applications for 40 households to avail of the grant and that the decision to suspend it would come as a blow to his customers. 

“There’s an awful lot of people that would be very upset,” he said. 

“A lot of people were looking at it as an opportunity to do modifications to their homes… Some people have moved out of their houses – they’re living in mobile homes, in rented accommodation.

It’s an absolute shambles because there was an expectation there. SEAI – a government body – were advertising telling people that this way to go to provide reduce down their carbon footprint… then they decide ‘we’ve enough now’.

Carew said that he had been speaking to SEAI last week and that there was “no hint whatsoever that this would be knocked on the head”.

The 3 Counties Energy Agency, a firm who has been working on these deep retrofits, said that home and business owners have been “abandoned up the garden path” by government on the issue.

Its CEO Paddy Phelan said that five of its engineering and administrative staff had invested almost 1,000 hours on grant applications this year “which are now worthless and from which they are never likely to recoup their costs”. 

Phelan also said the SEAI had never indicated there could be a problem before this week’s announcement. 

“However, as of now, there is no State programme for deep retrofitting and no new scheme is likely to be set up before the end of 2020 at the earliest. It’s a massive slap in the face to everyone,” he said. 

The SEAI advertised this programme right up to mid-June. Why advertise a scheme on TV knowing it was out of funds?

Green energy company Urbanvolt, meanwhile, has said that a fundamental review is needed of the “grant-obsessed approach to encourage take-up of environmentally-friendly initiatives”. 

“Investors hate uncertainty and the pulling of this latest grant with no notice will demonstrate again to sophisticated investors that there is no cohesion to the government strategy on promoting energy efficiency,” its CEO Kevin Maughan said. 

Political fallout

At a time when most politicians aren’t at Leinster House for the summer recess, the opposition has still made sure to pressurise the government on the issue.

Labour TD Alan Kelly accused the government of “sabotage”, while Green Party MEP Ciaran Cuffe said the decision made a “mockery” of the government’s commitments on climate change.

Kelly said: “If SEAI ran out of money, this should have been communicated at the earliest opportunity but it wasn’t.  This resulted in homeowners from as far back as the beginning of the year and potentially before that committing to the scheme.  Preparatory works have been done and it is not enough for SEAI or Government to say this should not have been done.

People just cannot put their investments on hold to wait for government to turn its back on a scheme it is continually boasting about. This is an outrage.

Green Party councillor for Westmeath Louise Heavin had been in the process of applying for the grant. She said she’s now left in a situation where a “complete rethink” is required because she won’t be able to afford what had been planned.

“To be eligible, you have to upgrade the insulation, the heating system and the air tightness,” she said. “Without the grant this will now be financially unattainable for huge numbers of people who are now left in limbo, often with structural preparation for the project already begun.”

TheJournal.ie asked the Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment why Minister Bruton said there was significant funding left for the scheme just seven weeks ago, only for that scheme to now be suspended.

A spokesperson said: “In June a submission was received by the Department from the SEAI noting the closing date for the 2019 scheme was July 19th and making proposals in relation to next steps for the scheme.

The Department engaged with the SEAI in relation to the submission and sought clarification on some issues.
A submission was then made to the minister noting that the scheme was closed and that applicants who had not yet received approval or letters of offer under the scheme would be placed on hold pending an evaluation of the scheme. This decision was communicated to applicants on 13 August by SEAI.

The spokesperson added: “The pilot predates the climate action plan by over 2 years. The pilot was intended to retrofit a few hundred homes to determine the best way to retrofit different types of homes. The Climate Action Plan did not commit to extending the pilot.  

“The climate action plan proposes a new delivery model to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030. This includes grouping homes in the same area together, ensuring easy pay back mechanisms (e.g. through your electricity bill) and getting smart financing.”

An SEAI spokesperson said: “In June a submission was sent by SEAI to the Department noting the closing date for the 2019 scheme was 19 July and making proposals in relation to next steps for the scheme. The Department engaged with the SEAI in relation to the submission and sought clarification on some issues.

A submission was then made to the Minister noting that the scheme was closed and that applicants who had not yet received approval or letters of offer under the scheme would be placed on hold pending an evaluation of the scheme. This decision was communicated to applicants on 13 August by SEAI.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

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