Thursday 22 August 2019

Ministers who cut energy bills get to spend savings

Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Government ministers will be incentivised to reduce energy consumption in their departments by being allowed retain any savings made.

Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten said he was working with spending minister Paschal Donohoe on the scheme, which would allow ministers retain savings made by cutting electricity and heating bills.

The move comes because public bodies including government departments, local authorities, state agencies including the HSE and schools are obliged to reduce energy consumption by 33pc by 2020 to help combat dangerous climate change and reduce costs.

The sector is half-way towards meeting the target, with reductions of 17pc to date, but some areas are faring better than others.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland notes that consumption has actually increased in some areas including the prison service, some hospitals, in educational facilities and local authorities. Some government departments, including Education, Transport, Climate Change, Defence and Housing, are not on track to meet the 2020 target.

Mr Naughten said that ministers needed to "lead from the front" and a new scheme was being considered where any savings arising from lower bills could be used to fund other projects.

"We have to get individual ministers to drive this," he said. "Paschal Donohoe (minister for public expenditure and reform) and I are working on a scheme which has the potential to reduce consumption right across the public sector. It's an incentive scheme to encourage people to change their ways."

He said that measures could include staff awareness programmes, and upgrades to buildings such as installing more efficient heating systems or lighting. Separately, Mr Naughten said that while agriculture was moving in the "right direction", many opportunities to reduce emissions were not being availed of.

"It's important to recognise we have the lowest carbon footprint in the dairy industry in Europe. In relation to beef we're the sixth lowest and moving down the chart," he said.

"We are moving in the right direction, and have made significant progress, but there is progress to be made. There's still low-hanging fruit in the agriculture sector. Every single farm can be more efficient."

He said research group Teagasc was trying to encourage farmers to utilise strip grazing, where livestock is given a fresh allocation of pasture every day.

"They're (Teagasc) trying to drum home strip grazing for beef and sheep production which is standard for dairy. There's more labour required, but it's more efficient, the farmer uses less fertiliser and animals are produced quicker for market which reduces their carbon footprint," he added.

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