Government reverses plan to close deep retrofit scheme for householders

SEAI says it does not have enough funding for all applicants, but Bruton disputes claim

Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the  Environment. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Government has reversed the controversial decision to close immediately deep retrofit scheme for homes which would have had a major financial impact on 300 households.

The Minister for Communications Richard Bruton said yesterday that the 302 households which had applied for the scheme by the July deadline would have their applications evaluated after all and, if approved, would receive their grants in 2020.

The decision represents a major climbdown after the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) announced last Tuesday it was axing the scheme because it did not have enough funding for the grants.

Yesterday, Mr Bruton said he understood why the scheme was closed but said he did not agree with the manner in which it was done.

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, he said it was unreasonable to put applications on hold indefinitely and give householders no indications if they would receive the grant at a future date.

“This was a pilot scheme. It was always the intention to review it and in undertaking, they suspended applications,” he said.

“I’m not happy with the way this decision was reached, but I can understand it,” Mr Bruton said in a subsequent interview on RTÉ.

However, Mr Bruton also seemed to query the argument that the scheme was discontinued because of a lack of funding.

He said there had been a huge surge in applications in the weeks before the final deadline on July 19th.

Mr Bruton said only €1 million worth of applications had been received in the first quarter of the year, while some €12 million worth was received in the run-up to the deadline.

However, confusion remained over where the funding will come for the 302 applications.

The Minister maintained that no new money would be required. He said he had allotted €20 million to the SEAI for all energy-saving schemes, including deep retrofit, as recently as July 11th. He also said that €10 million had been allotted to the deep retrofit programme for this year.

Tight deadlines

However, the SEAI had made submissions to the Department in June to extend the scheme in to 2020 to accommodate the extra applicants but that was not accepted. The SEAI in its own statements had cited lack of funding as the reason behind suspending the scheme.

The Irish Times submitted questions to the Minister seeking clarity on the funding of the scheme for 2019 but no response was received as of yesterday evening.

In the statement Mr Bruton also said that a task force would begin work on giving effect to the Government’s plan to retrofit up to 500,000 houses between now and 2030, bringing them up to B2 energy standard.

The scheme was generally perceived as being very generous. Householders received more than half the costs of retrofitting their homes to A3 energy standards. In some cases the work cost over €100,000, generating grants of up to €50,000.

The difficulty for many households which applied for the scheme was they had begun work on the projects already, because of the very tight deadlines that were involved.

One of those householders who was affected, Connor Murphy said it had been a stressful few days for him but he was now reassured.

“Questions still need to be answered as to how this happened but we are hopeful that this allows everyone to complete their projects,” he said.

One of the companies which carried out projects, Tipperary Energy Agency welcomed the change. Its CEO Paul Kenny said homeowners had been through a stressful time.

He also said it was important for the next phase of the scheme to be developed quickly.