When news of the new Retrofitting scheme was announced by the government recently, I was probably one of the few Greens in the country who gave a sigh of mild irritation! Not, I hasten to add, because I have any issue with the scheme, quite the contrary in fact. I welcome it with open arms and think it’s really exciting news that can play a hugely positive, environmentally friendly role in the transition away from fossil fuels, while making people more comfortable in their homes, with lower energy costs over time.
The reason for my short-lived discomfort was simple: I’ve just reached the end of a deep retrofit on my own home and I’d certainly have been happier with even better value for money in the shape of the significantly increased grants now coming on stream!
But I jest. Such is life and it’s not all about me and my pocket (though as a single mother who spent many years struggling, I truly value, and never take for granted the couple of years of stability my current job has given me and my three children).
The new Home Energy Upgrade Scheme is the biggest home insulation and retrofit scheme ever offered in the State, totalling €8 billion. It’s a scheme the Green Party were instrumental in securing in the Programme for Government, and will put us on track to meet our climate goals in the next decade. In government, my colleagues have been proudly supporting and pushing from the get go, and with grants of up to 80% of total costs being covered in this retrofitting programme, it looks set to be truly transformative for many people.
When I started my own project I found it challenging to source all the information and get my head around the best approach to take to suit the particular needs of myself and my daughters. One of the features of this new scheme is the setting up of a one-stop-shop, allowing people to have grant application, assessment and works carried out all by one person. That will certainly eliminate a lot of the hassle and has the added benefit that applicants will just have to pay the net cost of the project. In other words, people won’t have to pay the full amount and wait for repayment of a grant. The one-stop shop will receive the grant directly. Some one stop shop companies already exist (e.g. An Post Green Hub, Electric Ireland Superhomes and Credit Union Greener Homes) and more will join in the coming weeks.
To mention another couple of the other big positives: there will be grants of up to 50% available for deep retrofit to a B2 BER standard (up from 30%-35% grants currently). An enhanced grant rate of 80% for attic and cavity wall insulation for all households will also be available.
Of course there are questions, and probably chief amongst these for many is – how can I afford this, even with grants? Low cost loans will be available from later this year to help finance additional costs, with repayments set to match or be less than heating savings. We’ll see an increase in the number of free energy upgrades for those at risk of energy poverty (400 per month – up from an average of 177 per month in 2021). There are also other schemes such as the Warmer Homes Scheme (which has just been given triple its previous funding) and the Community Energy Grant Scheme.
And what if I can’t afford a home, what if I’m a renter? Under the Housing for All plan, the Government is planning to introduce a minimum BER rating for most private rental properties from 2025. As such, these supports offer a significant incentive for landlords to carry out improvement works on their properties ahead of that deadline.
Another question that has been doing the rounds on this topic is around our current workforce. Put simply, who is going to undertake the work? In Budget 2022, the Department of Further and Higher Education provided €22 million for the Green Skills Action Programme, €17m of which relates to retrofit and NZEB (near zero energy buildings) skills. The money will provide for an additional 2,650 places, bringing the total number of places to 4,550 by the end of 2022.
I’ve lived in a cold house for the past couple of decades, and I can’t tell you how much of a difference the retrofit has made. For the first time ever, my daughters and I are comfortable in what is a truly cosy and inviting place, that really feels like a home. I look forward to seeing others share the joy of this experience over the coming years, and I will take particular pleasure in knowing this is not just about quality of life, lower bills and comfort, it’s about taking decisive and effective action in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.