Questions remain over funding of retrofit scheme

Published by Niall Sargent on

August 20th, 2019

The Government has announced that all outstanding deep retrofit pilot scheme applications will be assessed but questions remain over why funding issues discovered earlier this year were not disclosed to the public.

The scheme – funded by the Department of Climate Action (DCCAE) and operated by the SEAI – was launched in 2017 offering grants of up to 50 per cent of costs for deep retrofits to an ‘A’ energy rating.

The 2019 budget for the scheme that was to run until the end of this year was €10m, double the amount spent in 2018 to accommodate growing demand from the public.

The three-year pilot closed for applications on 19 July, with the scheme heavily advertised right up to the deadline. Last week, however, it was reported that the SEAI had allocated all of the annual budget for the scheme around March or April this year.

In statements released last week, both the SEAI and DCCAE said that applications for 54 projects covering 320 homes that had yet to be examined would be put on hold pending an evaluation of the pilot scheme that is expended to extend well into 2020.

Following strong criticism from homeowners and contractors over the past week, the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton TD yesterday announced, following discussions with the CEO of the SEAI Jim Gannon, that all applications received before the July deadline will now be processed.

“I expect that letters of offer will begin to issue from early September 2019 to all eligible applicants,” Mr Bruton said, adding that the October deadline to complete retrofitting works will no longer apply.

The Minister also announced a new departmental taskforce to oversee progress towards the State’s ambitious plan to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030, frankly declaring that the present range of supports offered by the SEAI “will not be adequate” to meet this target.

The taskforce will drive the development of a new national delivery model, he said, that will group homes together by area, examine upskilling and training options, and design smart finance and loan options such as allowing homeowners to pay back costs through their utility bills.

Common sense prevails but questions remain

The 3 Counties Energy Agency (3CEA) based in Kilkenny said the decision is “very welcome news” for over 100 home and business owners who invested in their applications. Households are likely to have invested at least €2,000 as part of the application process to cover the likes of contractor fees and energy rating tests.

“Common sense has prevailed and hundreds of jobs across the retrofit industry threatened by last week’s announcement have been saved as a result, including in our own agency,” said 3CEA senior energy engineer, Alexandra Hamilton.

Questions remain from many homeowners, however, as to why applications for grants were still being accepted until July when funding issues were apparent earlier in the year. In addition, many applicants have questioned why the Department and SEAI failed to raise any financial problems in public statements on the scheme in June and July.

On 25 June, Mr Bruton said he expected that the €7m allocated to the scheme at the time would be drawn down by the end of 2019 when directly asked by Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty if funding for the scheme had run out.

In addition, on 10 July 2019, Mr Gannon, together with Michael Manley, the Assistant Secretary-General in DCCAE’s energy division, appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. Both failed to give any indication if there were financial issues with the scheme, with Mr Gannon outlining that the deadline for applications remained open until 19 July.

Connor Murphy, one of the first homeowners to publicly raise alarm over the issue last week, said on Twitter yesterday that, while the Minister’s announcement was “very encouraging”, the “questions still stand” in relation to the lack of communication over funding issues.

Flawed governance process

Speaking to The Green News last Friday, Niall O’Doherty, another homeowner impacted by last week’s SEAI announcement, said that the communication about the scheme’s problems “has been appalling”.

Mr O’Doherty was part of the group that was “caught between a rock and a hard place” prior to the Minister’s announcement yesterday as his application was put on hold yet he couldn’t afford to wait for the “new fandangled process” that may come into effect at some point in 2020.

“I have a family to move in,” said the father-of-two, who plans to upgrade a 1930’s semi-detached home in Dublin to an A2 from its current D2 energy rating at a cost of €90,000.

Despite applying for the grant in March, Mr O’Doherty said that both he and his energy contractor grew concerned over the subsequent months as they had yet to receive an offer from the SEAI.

He said, however, that feedback from the SEAI via both direct communication and through his contractor was that the project was “ticking all the boxes”.

“It’s been impossible to get the insider information out of the SEAI as to the process and, to me, that is bad governance, it is a flawed governance process,” he said.

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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