Climate change campaigners have criticised a decision to exclude households from one of the few incentives aimed at reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Only commercial and industrial operators are being considered for the proposed new Renewable Heat Incentive because it is believed it would cost too much to include homeowners.
Campaigners have warned that, with Ireland due to fall short of its EU obligations on renewable heat by 2020, and with massive fines to follow, excluding most of the country from the scheme amounts to a false economy.
Barry McMullin of Dublin City University and the postcarbonireland.org campaign said by narrowing the focus to costs, we were in danger of failing to see the bigger picture.
“We have understandably a very strong focus on cost-effectiveness, and a sensitivity to the still fragile state of our national finances,” said Prof McMullin. “But in looking only at what we might expend on these measures, we’re not looking at the potential costs we will incur, not just in money terms but in human suffering, through inadequate action.”
Green Party spokesman on renewable energy Ossian Smyth said the approach was too short-termist.
“We have this mindset that we can’t afford these kind of measures because right now it’s too expensive,” he said. “But as we get closer to D-Day, to the 2020 deadline, it’s going to be a case of either you spend the money and take action and get the benefit for the public, or you spend money on fines and get no benefit.”
Ireland has been set a target of delivering 12% of heat from renewable energy sources by 2020 but, according to the Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources, we are “likely to fall short of the target”.
The department is seeking consultants to design and cost a Renewable Heat Incentive scheme that would reward renewable heat users.
The job spec states that the scheme would be targeted at industrial and commercial heat users only.
“Work to date has indicated that it would not be cost-effective, at this stage, to include the domestic heating sector,” it says,
Mr Smyth said the lack of priority afforded the issue was worrying.
“If you think about the way Irish homes are heated, in the city it tends to be gas and in rural areas, if you have central heating, it tends to be oil,” he said.
“Both of those are fossil fuels and there been very little progress in getting away from them.
“The only thing the Government has done is bring in grants for more efficient boilers. They haven’t said: ‘What about some way of heating your house that doesn’t have emissions at all?’ ”
Mr Smyth said households should be supported to instal solar panels and geothermal heat pumps that extract heat from the ground.
“Buildings consume a lot of the energy in our economy and it’s a huge area that we just haven’t even started to tackle,” he said.
Separately, the Department of the Environment has launched a public consultation on Ireland’s first statutory climate change action plan. Submissions on the National Climate Change Adaptation Framework must be received by May 20.
Prof McMullin is one of 29 academics calling for a citizens’ convention on climate change that would provide a better forum for gathering the widest range of views and encouraging ordinary people to take part.
“Laudable as these public consultation exercises are, they’re severely limited,” he said. “Very few individuals or voluntary groups have the resources or time or knowledge to participate in a really strong way.”
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