More than 300 homeowners who had been awaiting approval for a grant under the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) deep retrofit scheme will not now receive their funding.
The SEAI announced on Tuesday that it would give grants only to projects which have already been approved to carry out deep retrofits of older housing to improve their energy rating.
It means that any application for a deep retrofit grant made before the deadline of July 19th, but which had yet to be approved, would not now be eligible to receive the grant.
It is understood that some 54 projects, covering insulation and heating for 302 homes, will be affected by the decision. Some of the projects have been in the evaluation process for many months.
One contractor, who was an approved service provider for the scheme, told The Irish Times the announcement “took everybody by surprise”.
While the deep retrofit programme was a three-year pilot and was due to finish at the end of 2019, the contractor, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said the SEAI had given no indication that all the schemes currently under evaluation would not receive grants.
It has set a target of 500,000 energy retrofits of existing housing stock in State over the next two decades. However, as of now there is no State programme for deep retrofitting with no new scheme likely to be set up before the end of 2020.
Homeowners too expressed their frustration. One of those, Connor Murphy, said it was an absolute mess. Posting on Twitter, he said they were in mid-build and were investing in making his home more energy efficient. “This is a massive hit.”
Many home owners had paid as much as €2,000 in application costs in the expectation of getting the grant. It was uncertain last night if they would be eligible to recoup those costs.
There was criticism of the agency, and of Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Energy Richard Bruton for not indicating at any stage that those schemes which were applied for before the deadline would not get the grant.
The grant offered more than 50 per cent of the costs of a deep retrofit of older homes with a C2 energy rating or worse, bringing its rating up as high as A3. The costs often ran to more than €100,000 per house and occupants had to move out while the work was being done.
In a statement, the SEAI emphasised that the scheme was a pilot and also said interest in the scheme had “accelerated rapidly in 2019”.
It said that any projects which received a letter of grant offer would be “absolutely assured” the grant would be paid.
However, those projects still in evaluation would not receive grants.
The statement referred to terms and conditions which “explicitly state” that the project should not commence until confirmation of a grant had been received.
However, there were indications that work on some projects had already commenced in the expectation of grant approval. Several homeowners also expressed frustration on Twitter at the length of time the evaluation process was taking, with some waiting for 14 weeks or more in 2019.
While the allocation for the pilot increased from €4.7 million to €7 million in 2018, it was clearly not enough to cover the substantial spike in the number of applications.
A parliamentary reply from Mr Bruton in June gave an indication of the huge surge of applications in 2019.
In all, 120 homes were retrofitted in 2017 and 139 in 2018. The grants paid last year were €4.7 million.
There was a large increase in applications in 2019, according to Mr Bruton’s reply to a written question from Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty. A total of 265 applications for homes were either in progress or under evaluation as of the end of June this year. That number had increased to more than 300 by the July deadline for applications.
Fine Gael TD Noel Rock said the scheme was complicated and involved the homeowner taking too many chances.
“In many cases the whole process was riven with indecision and a lack of clarity about whether the scheme was paused temporarily or permanently,” he said.