A 5-point plan for Government to cut bills, save energy and reduce pollution

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Friends of the Earth urges emergency Government response to prepare for next winter

Friends of the Earth has today published a “Five-point plan for Government to cut bills, save energy and reduce pollution”. As households have now received the last Fuel Allowance payment for this season and with the Russian invasion of Ukraine entering its fourth month, the environmental justice organisation has called for “a concerted emergency response from the whole of Government to do five things” before next winter sees the energy crisis hit home even more. The plan contains 48 specific recommendations from inflation-proofing social welfare to free school buses to a moratorium on new data centres.

Commenting, Friends of the Earth’s Head of Policy, Jerry Mac Evilly, said:

“Russia’s abhorrent invasion of the Ukraine has exacerbated Europe’s three-part energy crisis of affordability, pollution and supply. The solution to these three problems is the same: reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as fast as possible. To protect households and communities in Ireland next winter we need a concerted emergency response from the whole of Government and we have five overarching proposals they should prioritise over the next six months.”

  1. Help With Energy Bills: Take immediate steps to help those in fuel poverty and those struggling to pay their energy bills.
  2. Drive Home Energy Savings: Insulate 100,000 homes before next winter, prioritising those at risk of energy poverty.
  3. Reduce Our Car Dependence: Make it possible, safe and convenient for every child to come to school without using a car.
  4. Prioritise Community Energy: Drive public participation in renewable energy with a rooftop revolution.
  5. Say No to More Fossil Fuels: Plan and invest to end our dependence on dirty, pricey, unreliable fossil fuels as fast as possible.

Among the 48 recommendations in Friends of the Earth’s five point plan are the following

  • Target help with energy bills to those who need it most by increasing social welfare payments, the Fuel Allowance and the old-age pension to keep up with the cost of living, and expanding Fuel Allowance eligibility.
  • Require energy suppliers to automatically allocate existing customers to the lowest tariff rather than only new customers. Those at risk of fuel poverty are often those least likely to switch. The UK regulator, Ofgem, introduced this measure in February this year.
  • Mandate the SEAI to collaborate with organisations who work with those at risk of fuel poverty to coordinate the promotion and support the uptake of the free home insulation available.
  • There should be no cap on the number of eligible homes that can receive the 100% and 80% grants for attic and wall cavity insulation grants this year.
  • Make landlords liable for the carbon tax on heating their residential properties, rather than tenants, until they are retrofitted, as they are doing in Germany.
  • Ban “renovictions”, where tenants are evicted by landlords to facilitate renovations.

Clare O’Connor, energy policy analyst with Friend of the Earth said

"The Government must act now to prevent Irish households from living in dangerously cold homes next winter. Our most vulnerable households must be shielded from high energy costs. The SEAI must partner with expert NGOs now to step up the roll-out of insulation immediately, starting with those most at-risk of energy poverty.

“Rental properties need to be explicitly targeted by Government retrofitting schemes to ensure tenants who are already feeling the impacts of the housing crisis are not left carrying the additional burden of the energy crisis

Among the recommendations to reduce our car dependence Friends of the Earth focused on the fact that 20% of our car journeys are “companion journeys” including bringing children to school, urging the Government to make it possible, safe and convenient for every child to come to school without using a car:

  • Provide free school buses for all children who live more than 1km away from school.
  • Provide safe routes to school for cycling and walking within a 3km radius of every school.
  • Close more school streets to cars and use one way systems to make arrival at school on bike and foot as safe as possible and ban engine idling near schools.

Crucially, we must respond to the shock of the Russian invasion by getting off fossil fuels rather than swapping one source for another or lock ourselves into gas with new long-lasting infrastructure. The NGO quotes UN Secretary General who said recently that “investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness”. Among the recommendations to avoid gas lock-in are:

  • Introduce a moratorium on new data centres connecting to the electricity grid. A recent analysis by the MarEi centre in UCC identified a pause in the connection of new data centres as the most impactful single action the Government can take to reduce electricity demand, which in turn drives gas demand.
  • Ban the installation of oil and gas boilers in new homes this year, in all renovated homes by 2025 and legislate to end the further expansion of the gas distribution network, following the lead of EU members like the Netherlands and Denmark.

Friends of the Earth's “Five-point plan for Government to cut bills, save energy and reduce pollution” can be downloaded here: https://www.foe.ie/assets/files/pdf/5_point_plan_to_cut_bills_save_energy_and_reduce_pollution_-_may_2022.pdf