MORE THAN 1,000 large-scale public buildings are to be refurbished to reduce energy consumption by up to one third, and all new housing is to be "carbon neutral" by 2020, the Government announced yesterday.
The targets, among some 90 separate measures aimed at creating a "greener Ireland", are intended to save the State €1.6 billion annually in energy costs by 2020. This is to be achieved through a 20 per cent overall reduction in energy wastage, including a 33 per cent reduction from the public sector.
The intention is also to shift Ireland's energy requirement from fossil fuels to more secure and ultimately cheaper renewable energies.
Among private sector measures proposed are a stipulation that private landlords whose tenants receive rent allowance should achieve Building Energy Ratings (BER) for their properties which meet specific minimum standards.
It is hoped this measure is to be in place by the end of this year, with the costs of the BER borne by landlords. Landlords whose premises fail to meet energy efficiency standards or who fail to upgrade would find their premises no longer qualify for rent assistance.
In requiring that all new Irish housing be carbon neutral - at least in its energy consumption - by 2020, the measures go beyond what was previously anticipated. Building regulations due in 2010 are only expected to create a 60 per cent rise on 2002 base levels, with a further review in 2013 increasing this by 10 per cent. This will involve far greater insulation and use of renewable energies.
In the public sector, Government and local authority buildings are to be refurbished or "retrofitted" with renewable energy sources, increased insulation and special glazing measures to enhance energy efficiency.
All public sector bodies are to be required to produce an annual report outlining their progress towards the 33 per cent target.
In addition, the State procurement spending of up to €10 billion per year will from 2009 be subject to new guidelines on purchasing energy efficient products and services.
The energy sector itself is to be required to supply low-carbon energy to all customers and assist them to use it as efficiently as possible.
Appropriate market interventions such as grants, demonstrations and tax breaks will be provided, but it is expected by Government that the measures would almost all be self-financing.
Announcing the measures yesterday, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan said the cheapest way to achieve energy efficiency - which would in turn save consumers money on heating bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions - was to reduce waste.
He said the aim was "to bring back sense into our energy use. In my first year in Government I focused on changing how we create our energy. This year we will prioritise how we save on energy use and energy costs, bringing down our emissions at the same time."
He added that €1.6 billion a year saved was money that could make a significant difference to health and education services.
Mr Ryan, who was accompanied at the launch by international expert on energy efficiency Amory Lovins, said his department was already talking to specialist energy services companies and banks on how the cost savings achieved in public buildings could be brought forward and used to pay for the necessary conversion work.
Around the world, he said, costs had been reduced by making necessary changes when buildings came up for refurbishment, but he wanted to be "more proactive than that".