Rabbitte insists he is a good fit for his department and is excited about future
Ireland’s ration of renewable energy is 18 per cent, slightly under half the 40 per cent target for 2020. He believes that this is achievable, mainly through wind and biofuels.
However, some other big ticket projects appear to have stuttered in recent years. Constraints on finances had limited progress on the development of wave and ocean energy, he accepted.
“We are attempting to keep it alive but that’s the only thing that we are doing.” He also accepts the take-up for electric cars is slow but puts that down to the premium price still being charged. Until that drops, consumer uptake will be slow, he says, indicating that there will be no State incentives or grants in the short term.
The original target was for 230,000 electric vehicles by 2020 but that figure is clearly not realisable. Only a handful of electric vehicles were sold in Ireland last year.
His department has been criticised for not being active enough in pushing the massive project to retrofit one million Irish homes by 2020. The policy seems in limbo at present. The last government’s grant scheme for insulation is continuing, albeit with more modest grants. This Government’s Pay as You Save (where households pay the cost of retrofitting over a number of years as part of the scheme) will not come in until next year but in a recent report, the National Economic and Social Council expressed concern that the department did not have the resources, personnel, or expertise to oversee the retrofitting of 100,000 homes a year. It also pointed to a fall-off in uptake.
Rabbitte concedes that point. “There were 5,500 employed in the retrofit programme according to the 2011 figures. It could be as much as 1,000 fewer in 2012.”
He said the Opposition claimed it was because he moderated the grant. But, he argued, there were other factors. He said the continuing recession was the biggest factor.
“Even though you get a grant you put your hand in your pocket. You need €8,000 to come up with a job that’s improved.” He said that the second factor was the mild winter last year compared to the two previous years. The third factor was that those with the most interest in it were the early adaptors.
Rabbitte said plans were well under way to design a product that was attractive to householders and talks were being advanced with utility companies, the two main banks and others. He added that the aim remained to retrofit one million homes.
“The energy efficiency message is a huge one in my view.”