What the Experts Want from GE2020 – Paul Kenny

Published by Niall Sargent on

Over the past three weeks, as in all election cycles, we have become accustomed to the knock at the door from canvassers or candidates themselves are they vie for our number one at the ballot box.

We have asked leading climate and biodiversity experts to tell us the key policy asks that they have raised with candidates when they come a-knocking.

Next up is Paul Kenny, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Tipperary Energy Agency that has a proven track record over the past two decades in enabling people, communities and the public sector to become more sustainable in their energy use.

With Ireland’s building stock inefficient and highly carbon intensive (up to 60 per cent more than the average European home), Paul outlines the policy changes needed to change our buildings, their efficiency and their heating systems in line with our climate commitments.

Ireland older housing stock North King Street Photo: William Murphy

Better integrated support for delivering deep renovation

There are countless examples of solutions from across Europe but fundamentally we need to change from shallow single measure grants or annual stop-start grants for service providers to a long term solution where utilities, intermediaries, equipment suppliers, contractors, engineers can invest in their supply chains to deliver the capacity needed to tackle this problem for householders. How many times have you heard “can’t get a [insert trade of your choice here]”.

We will also need the skills development for the energy transition, the apprenticeships from Solas and the myriad of skills from the third-level sector. This will cost a significant amount of money, with the national development plan detailing almost €5 billion over the next seven years that I think will be insufficient. We need this to be deployed now in order to increase the service provision in this area, and if we get to the €5 billion mark, then we can consider increasing it.

Bioeconomy Photo: OakleyOriginals

Provide energy efficiency finance at low interest rates

We need to tackle every building, engage every householder and invest €50 billion over the next 30 years to do so and scale up retrofitting from 1,000 homes per annum to 50,000 homes to reach a B2 with a non-fossil heating system.

Energy efficiency finance needs to be provided at low interest rates where a deep renovation can be paid for over a 10 to 20 year period at low cost to the homeowner and where the savings in energy bills can a long way to paying for the upgrades.

The Picardie region in France has cracked this but, with a 2.25 per cent interest loan for 20 years on the non-grant balance of energy upgrade finance. Interestingly, this form of financial engineering is almost identical to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland’s Brexit and Agri loan products. We need the government to give the SBCI the mandate and funding to make this happen for retrofitting.

Enact a definite and policed energy related policy framework

We also need to use regulations effectively to move from a light touch regulation to a more definite and policed energy related policy framework to include, for example, the phasing down of fossil fuel boiler sales, setting minimum standards for rental properties need to be set, and clear rules around the rising carbon tax and 100’s of other sensible regulations that will increase climate action in Ireland.

Workers installing solar panels Photo: skeeze

Roll-out a strategic energy transition communication campaign

The Government needs to start a strategic energy transition communication campaign that is multi-faceted. People want, but don’t know how to, take the energy transition journey. We need to help them make decisions and also to signal that the cost of carbon tax will make fossil heating expensive and empower people to make the right choice when they are renovating their homes.

The addition of over €8,000 in carbon tax to the inflation adjusted €30,000 to €35,000 that the average homeowner will spend on heating their home should be enough to encourage a switch to an efficient home with low carbon heating.

We need to educate and empower people to retrofit their homes – in tandem with the financial support options raised above – on making better choices across a myriad of sustainable energy topics including home, transport, electricity and anything else that is needed to enhance the uptake of climate friendly behaviours.

All of the above is needed, but with three staff focused on energy efficiency in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the first job of a new government is to address the farcical resourcing of energy policy in Ireland.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London