ENVIRONMENT Minister, Denis Naughten, is set to ban smokey coal throughout Ireland from September 2018 in a measure that could be seen as the thin end of the wedge for coal and other carbon fuels like oil and peat.
In tandem with the announcement, he’s also reiterated the Government’s commitment to reducing carbon output by extending the grant system for retro-fit insulation and by offering a €3,500 grant towards the installation of heat pumps in oil-burning homes.
But in another swipe on the same day, the Climate Change Advisory Council advocated higher taxes on carbon fuels to try to ameliorate our galloping carbon emissions in face of severe sanctions by 2020 and beyond.
We have been trying to wriggle out of this deadline, but there’s an inevitability about the way that the Minister and the green council are heading.
While remaining quite mild on carbon emissions from farming — which accounts for over one-third of our total emissions — instead the emphasis seems to be down where we live.
In other words, more taxes: Taxes on coal, peat, oil and petrol are being encouraged, while the incentives are a vague, hand-wavey exhortation to move to green vehicles.
All very worthy of course, we need to cut oil, we need to stop burning peat and coal, but there are a lot of us who can’t afford to move onto other fuels right now — not to mention new electric cars.
There is a great danger that increasing carbon taxes will create another level of social division, where highly-taxed, cold homes continue to burp oily carbon while relying on diesel bangers to get around. And even trading up to a second hand electric might not be viable, there is some concern that present electric models will not have the same longevity, battery-wise, as the combustion engine.
We have the highest level of fire burning in the country, at 41% in Munster compared to the rest of Ireland, (according to a recent, Milward Brown survey for Bord na Móna) and a lot of that is back-boiler central heating, which require little long term investment to fund.
A bag of coal is expensive in the overall at €20 a go, but a fill of oil can be up to €600 and a lot of people don’t have that cash to hand — what happens there?
The cynical amongst us will be checking out the cost of air to water heat pumps now before prices go up and in preparation for a retro-fit — but based on 2016 quote for a 2,000 square foot house, an 8kw air-t- water heat pump, with an integrated 260 ltr cyclinder, ex Vat costs €7,670. Add the 23% that the punter gets to pay and you’re looking at close on 10k for a heat pump — without installation charges or upgrade of radiators, (which might not always be necessary).
Taking into account the price rises in the last two years, that sum could be considerably more, but it’s impossible to compare, or even get a price for a pump without having a rep to call to assess your property’s suitability.
This means that the average upgrade would require at least three visits by various personnel to get some degree of price comparison.
Now add in the €3,500 the Minster is proposing to give us in grants and there’s still quite a bit of road to go before reducing ourcarbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. And we needn’t remind ourselves of the the law that prevails — where there’s a grant, an inevitable price increase follows.
Without taking to doomsaying — the fact is that heat pumps run on electricity. In a lot of cases, oil is burned to provide this electricity. In effect, getting rid of your oil boiler means you’re buying in oil at second-hand — with a standing charge. Oh, and Vat on that standing charge too.
Again, the relative economy of running your heat pump also depends on how much the supplier is going to charge you. So far, there hasn’t been any upside to ‘deregulation’ except, perhaps, call centres putting the customer at a distance and prices that vary very little. Hmm.
Now we’ve dealt with solar panels here before and have shown how it would take at least 20 years to get your money back on PVs. Why are there no incentives for this very easy, micro-generating retro-fit? This would allow people to offset the cost of a heat pump - or even storage heaters, by using their own, solar energy.
But this is ignored — it begs the questions, why? Right now, the network doesn’t allow for feed into the grid, which means that micro-generation in any form is out, unless you have battery storage.
There needs to be more proactive, positive moves towards a greener country than the unimaginative and unfair system of loading on taxes on home-heating carbons — taxes that mostly the poor will end up paying.
Grabbing the nettle of agricultural emissions while ceasing the lemming practice of paying an estimated, €170 million a year to burn our peat bogs would be a start. That funding could be diverted into seriously investigating independent, green energy and encouraging the use of micro-generation.
And meanwhile, what’s happened to wave power? We have the strongest swells outside of the Cape of Good Hope, yet the investment in technological research has not produced a workable method so far.
Across the quieter, Irish Sea, a large wave generator is being built in Swansea — where’s ours?
* Keep Sunday night free (now that Howard’s End is finished) for Dermot Bannon’s two-part special beginning with New York homes at 9.30pm tomorrow, which will show how the other half lives.
You’ve probably seen some of the teasers, where that most likeable fellow takes in a €35m Hamptons’ superhome and a skyscraper with squillion-dollar views. That class of a thing. We’re all going to be glued, while surrounded by early-opened selection boxes and a blazing fire. Ah, can’t wait.
* Don’t you just love Christmas FM? It started last week, and it really does lift the spirits to move the dial from hard news to happy tunes on the way to work and back. Better still, it’s ideal to tune into this weekend, as it’s the annual Christmas decoration time. Households all over the country will be raising the tree, untangling the decorations, shedding the odd tear and having a good laugh, we hope, while listening to this hugely popular station. It’s easy to forget that it’s manned entirely by volunteers on a rolling, 24-hour basis over the Christmas period and raises hundreds of thousands of euro for good causes — this year it is Sightsavers.
This charity works to prevent blindness in the developing world and saves the sight of up to 5,000 people each year. So send in a request, at €2 euro a text and do your bit while you juggle fairy lights on a kitchen chair; www.christmasfm.com/www.facebook.com/christmasfm.
* Who would guess that a pleasant, but ordinary bungalow at Kilcummin, Co Kerry is home to a thriving hand-blown glass industry? And it’s down to one man, Terence McSweeney, who works from his own furnace at home near Killarney producing colourful and quality designs from recycled glass. Terence had a stand at the City Hall Crafts Fair and people were very taken with his designs which look a little like Murano glass in its swirls of colours and style. The prices are good too with bowls at around €50 and some jugs starting as low as €30 upwards. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 064-6643295 or mobile: 086-0503512.
* And finally, a household tip — Dealz are doing a handy metal wreath holder for €1.50. No more nail marks — it clips over the door with a curved hook on the other side to hold the wreath. A couple of bells jingle nicely when you push the door open.