Fine Gael and Green MEPs clash over EU buildings directive

Ciarán Cuffe blames Seán Kelly and European People’s Party for demanding controversial provision in proposed regulation

Green MEP Ciaran Cuffe is under fire from consumer groups over a controversial green buildings directive. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Irish members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Ciarán Cuffe and Seán Kelly have clashed over a controversial EU green buildings regulation.

Consumer groups warn that a provision in the proposed Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which aims to decarbonise all EU buildings by 2050, could lumber families with expensive boilers run on fossil fuels or even more costly green hydrogen.

A committee chaired by Mr Cuffe, a Green MEP, backed the directive last week. He blamed the European People’s Party (EPP) for demanding that it include the provision allowing for the controversial “hybrid” boilers, adding that Fine Gael MEP Mr Kelly was that group’s negotiator.

“The EPP were clear that they would not support it unless that provision was included, so a compromise was required to reach a deal,” he said.


Mr Cuffe, whose party is in coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the Republic, added that he was “disappointed” that the provision was included in the directive.

Mr Kelly responded that the deal was co-signed by all representatives of the political groups involved. “If they did not agree, they would not have,” he added.

The Fine Gael MEP pointed out that the directive involved the “massive undertaking” of renovating all buildings in the EU, all with different local and national circumstances.

“This is pan-European legislation and it should ensure that all renewable technologies are on the table so that decarbonisation can be done in the most cost-effective manner,” he said.

He also argued that the committee’s rapporteur, Mr Cuffe, originally proposed penalising owners who failed to renovate their buildings to achieve almost impossible decarbonisation targets.

“In negotiations, I had to remove wording that would have meant that existing buildings would not be allowed to have fossil fuel heating systems by 2025,” he said.

Mr Kelly maintained that besides being impossible, this would impose extra costs on families, particularly where other solutions were not available.

Hybrid boilers run on natural gas but can switch to hydrogen or biomethane in the future. The European Consumer Organisation, whose members include the Consumer Association of Ireland, says research shows that hydrogen is too expensive to heat homes.

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Jaume Loffredo, the European organisation’s senior energy policy officer, warned that the boilers would make matters worse for consumers already struggling with heating bills.

“Our research shows that hydrogen will be far more expensive than gas is today, and it will be the most expensive option for consumers,” he said.

The EU is pouring billions of euro into researching green hydrogen, made by electrically charging water to separate the gas from oxygen, as many experts believe it could be used to fuel manufacturing, power generation and heavy transport.

According to the European Consumer Organisation, using the fuel for heating could cost all EU consumers €240 billion and leave mid-sized homes with yearly gas bills of €1,585, on top of what they spend on electricity.

‘Energy poverty’

For this reason, the group favours electric heat pumps and insulation. One of its directors, Jan Rosenow, said recently that hydrogen was the fossil fuel industry’s latest bid to “slow down clean heating”.

Mr Cuffe stressed that the directive was wide ranging. “My priority has always been to protect families living in energy poverty,” the MEP added.

Mr Kelly said he had ensured the directive provided better access to grants and favourable loans to help householders pay for electric heat pumps and solar technology.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy voted in favour of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive last week. All 705 MEPs will vote on it next month.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas