Christmas lights on streets and heating in buildings among issues under consideration to help reduce energy costs - Ryan

Environment minister said European proposals to hit revenue of energy companies to help tackle surging bills could work in Ireland

Proposals to be considered by European ministers to hit the revenues of energy companies to help tackle surging bills for households could work in Ireland, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said.

Minister Ryan also said that every kind of building and institution will be looked at regarding energy use because they’re going to be hit by higher bills. He said that local authorities are looking at the issue of Christmas lights on streets adding: “They’re starting to consider every measure. But we’re not being prescriptive down to that level yet.”

Elsewhere, Taoiseach Micheál Martin promised a substantial package of aid for the public at a time of unprecedented rises in energy prices.

Green Party leader Mr Ryan will join other European Union ministers for an emergency meeting on Friday and he suggested it could result in “really significant steps” to help address the energy crisis for households facing soaring costs.

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He said: “I’m hopeful we can get an agreement on Friday and very quickly the [European] Commission will then introduce measures that allow us to try and cushion some of the blow of those higher bills.”

Draft proposals drawn up by the Czech presidency of the EU have been circulated to EU member States.

Along with the revenue skimming idea another option listed on the paper is to intervene to decouple or limit the impact of the price of gas on the price of electricity, changing the current situation in which gas sets prices for the market under the EU marginal pricing system.

Asked about the revenue skimming measure, Mr Ryan said European Commission proposals include taking some of the revenue from the very high profits being made and using it to lower the price for households.

“That’s a mechanism that I think could work”.

He said the finer details would be provided on Friday and he had to discuss the idea with the other Coalition leaders “But I believe the Commission proposal is a good one and I think it may well work well in the Irish market — not to protect us completely but to be a significant help.”

Mr Ryan said implementation of the European proposals would be complex as different energy providers have different kinds of contracts.

However, he said: “There are significant profits being made in the market which we can address using this European inter-marginal pricing mechanism and I think it is it makes economic sense ...

“I’m hopeful we can get it over the line on Friday”.

He said the proposals have a lot of the same characteristics as a windfall tax and “you wouldn’t do both because it effectively addresses the same issue, just in a slightly different way.”

The Irish Times understands the memo on energy conservation in the public sector to be brought to Cabinet on Wednesday does not include measures related to schools.

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A Department of Education spokesman said schools account for a very small proportion of overall energy usage across the public sector – around 5 per cent of reported energy consumption.

He said a joint programme between the Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) already “assists schools reduce their energy consumption and empowers participating schools and pupils to learn the benefits of sustainability”.

Typically savings of between 5 and 10 per cent are said to be identified through low and no cost measures though some schools have identified potential savings of up to 15 per cent or more.

The spokesman said the Department has ensured that centrally negotiated rates are available to schools for electricity and bulk heating fuels to help with energy costs.

Mr Ryan also indicated that State buildings open to the public like schools and libraries would not be affected in the same way as Government office buildings when it comes to plans for reducing energy usage by the public sector.

He discussed a memo about energy conservation in the public sector with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Tuesday evening.

It is understood the memo does not include measures related to schools. It will be brought to Cabinet today.

The energy conservation plans could see temperatures in offices lowered this winter while workers may be asked not to spread across different floors.

On the issue of heating schools and libraries Mr Ryan said: “We need our children in school and I think we have to look at other measures within those school operations to try and save energy.”

He said libraries provide a warm, social environment that people get huge benefit from and “I don’t believe in an energy crisis they’re the sort of facilities you scale back on.”

Mr Ryan was speaking at the opening of Dublin City Council’s first Community Mobility Charging Hub in Finglas which includes charging spaces for electric vehicles and eight ESB e-bikes that can be hired.

The Taoiseach was at the launch of an energy storage project in Co Offaly.

He pledged that there will be a cost-of-living package in parallel with the Budget with once-off measures to help households.

He said: “The budget itself will also deal as best we can with childcare and education. Schools, in terms of capitation, will need supports.”

Mr Martin said: “It will be a substantial package. It has to be because the price levels are at a level that no one has experienced before, not even in the 1970s and it is principally because of the decision by Putin to weaponise energy.”

Reacting to comments from the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) seeking improvement in retrofitting grants, Mr Martin indicated he remains supportive of assisting households and consumers.

“I’m a very strong enthusiast for doing everything we can within the resources we have to incentivise the purchase of EVs for example, and also in terms of facilitating retrofitting.”

Mr Ryan was asked about a CCAC proposal for low-cost loans for electric vehicles.

He said significant grants are already in place and the Government is developing low-cost loans for retrofitting which he said “is probably the most important first step of low cost loans.”

He said low-cost loans for electric vehicles could be examined once the retrofitting scheme is up and running.

He agreed with a suggestion that low-cost loans may ultimately replace the grants if there is a huge uptake in electric vehicles.

Small-scale insulation

Elsewhere the director general of the Construction Industry Federation, Tom Parlon has welcomed a suggestion from the Climate Change Advisory Council that there should be more focus on smaller scale insulation measures.

Mr Parlon told RTÉ radio’s News at One that low grade upgrades such as attic insulation and new windows and doors would be much more effective in the short term than major projects such as air pumps and measures which were expensive, labour intensive and intrusive. A focus on individual energy upgrades, “not the full Monty” would be effective as would a more streamlined and simpler grant application process.

Mr Parlon called for subsidies to be implemented in builders’ merchants, rather than people having to buy the product and then apply to get the money back through a grant. The “vast majority” of new homes being built in Ireland were the most energy efficient in Europe, he said. They had no chimneys, they were timber framed, surrounded by a brick or block ‘skin’ to protect against the Irish environment. However, calls for all new builds to automatically include solar panels would involve a cost issue, he said. They were “extremely expensive” and there was “a lengthy payback” for solar panels unless there was some form of subsidy by the Government.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times