Minister denies there is ‘price-gouging’ on retrofitting for householders using one-stop shops

Land use report critical to meeting big challenges including ensuring land becomes substantial store of carbon says Eamon Ryan

Eamon Ryan said the EU had noted Ireland had one of the most successful retrofitting programmes in Europe. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan has denied there is price fixing or price gouging in the house retrofitting sector to the disadvantage of householders using one-stop shops to secure grants and help convert their homes.

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action on Tuesday, Mr Ryan acknowledged costs had increased for those wishing to convert to energy efficient homes using renewables.

Retrofits processed through one-stop shops, however, tended to be bigger jobs and therefore be more expensive. “I don’t believe there is price fixing or gouging ... It’s very competitive; people can shop around. It’s a sign of more work done,” he added.

He was responding to Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke who raised the issue, citing the average cost of home upgrades to a B2 energy rating, which had gone from €34,000 in 2022 to €57,000 in 2024.

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He accepted the need to scale up retrofitting at pace but suggested the Minister “look under the bonnet” with one-stop shops and ensure price containment.

Mr Ryan said the EU had noted Ireland had one of the most successful retrofitting programmes in Europe, with 52,000 upgrades supported by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland this year. This figure needed to rise even further but would be helped by availability of low-interest home energy loans.

Deputy Alan Farrell (FG) said there was evidence of price escalation, probably due to inflation, while he had concerns about capacity to scale up due to labour shortages in the construction sector.

The Minister said contractor availability was not as big an issue as two years ago, but the Government had responded in an effort to boost the workforce in heat pump technology, including replacement of oil and gas burners.

Mr Ryan presented a revised estimate to the committee, which was required due to the recent transfer of marine planning related functions from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. These functions include the new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority.

The total budget provision for his department this year is €1.216 billion, comprising of just under €228 million in current and €988 million in capital expenditure.

It provides for €46.6 million in operational and capital funding for the EPA to deliver its range of functions, including funding for 38 additional staff across the circular economy, climate change, licensing and energy security. This also includes funding for the second phase of the land use review, “to provide an evidence base to determine the environmental, ecological and economic characteristics of land types across Ireland”.

Among taskforces set up to address delivery of the Government’s climate and energy actions, the one on land use faced the most challenges and yet needed to make the most progress, the Minister said.

Land was currently a source of carbon whereas it, with afforestation, should be a substantial store. The Cabinet on Tuesday had approved a long-term climate change strategy that endorsed this approach, while acknowledging agriculture could never go to zero emissions.

Asked by Mr Farrell (FG) about indications that only 650 hectares of forestry was planted this year when that should be the monthly average, Mr Ryan said delivering on forestry targets was an issue for the Minister for Agriculture but the long-term strategy would require planting 30,000 hectares a year, rather than the current annual target of 8,500 hectares.

While a dramatic increase is afforestation was required, he was confident those levels could be achieved because of unprecedented supports for landowners and opportunities through agroforestry, while licensing issues had been resolved.

More than €544 million has been allocated under the Energy Transformation Programme. “It aims to ensure continued secure and reliable energy supplies necessary to support our economy and society on the pathway to net-zero emissions,” he said.

A record €444 million is allocated for residential and community energy upgrade and support schemes, including the solar PV scheme, and to support delivery of the national retrofit plan, he said. Of this amount, €380 million is from Carbon Tax receipts, which is an increase of €89 million over the last year.

Some €30 million is being provided to cover the operational costs of the SEAI. This includes funding for an additional staff resource to enable it to deliver on its wide range of programmes including retrofitting.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times