By HARRY McGEE
Approval for plan to meter home use of water
WATER METERS will be installed in every home in the country over the next two years with a view to introducing domestic water charges from 2011.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley has been given Government approval for the ambitious nationwide scheme and is finalising preparations for its implementation.
The cost of providing meters for the domestic housing stock – the current figure is 1.2 million homes – is expected to cost €600 million and take two years to complete.
The project will be financed by local authorities which are expected to be grouped into regional bodies for the purpose of the scheme with a view to achieving economies of scale. It is expected the public-private procurement process will not be used for this scheme.
The cost of installing the meters in individual homes will vary with location, nature and size of the dwelling. According to the latest estimates, the cost for each home will be €200-€580.
Local authorities are likely to start charging for domestic water from 2011, but only where the use of water exceeds a particular allowance. There is provision for charging in the revised programme for government, finalised in October.
It states that households will be allocated a free basic allowance, with charging only for water use in excess of this.
“In keeping with the allocation of greater responsibility to local government, local authorities will set their own rates for water use.”
It is also believed the department will investigate the possibility of “smart meters” being installed for water by means of a pilot study in Dublin. The use of technology could allow local authorities to calculate usage remotely and would also allow householders to control their use of water.
Local authorities may also be in a position to harness technology to allow them to charge different rates for different times, a device that will allow them maintain consistency of supply.
The Labour Party, which abolished the charges in early 1997, is opposed to any reintroduction of the charges. Fine Gael has reserved its position and says it will decide when in government.
A number of smaller parties, including Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party, have campaigned against the imposition of water charges in the past.
Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins has said that the reintroduction of water charges would be foisting further hardship on working families. His party has promised public protests if they are introduced.
The Commission on Taxation recommended the reintroduction of charges.
At a conference in October, the chairman of the commission, Frank Daly, said Ireland needed to “get real” about water charges.
At present, he said, there was no incentive for domestic users to manage their water, indicating his preference for the introduction of charges.
By HARRY McGEE
State housing stock to be refitted under insulation plan
THE STATE’S entire housing stock of more than a million homes will be retro-fitted within a decade under an ambitious new Government home insulation scheme which is set to be introduced next year.
Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan and officials have been working on a “save as you pay” home insulation scheme for the budget on December 9th. The scheme is included as a policy objective in the new Programme for Government.
The scheme, if given the go- ahead by the Cabinet, will mean a vast scaling up of the Government’s insulation plans with a policy it hopes will encourage one million householders to retro-fit by 2020. That would also greatly help Ireland to reach the EU target for that year of a cut of 20 per cent in greenhouse emissions compared to 2005 levels.
Under the current scheme, introduced early this year, 33,000 households have applied for grants worth €38 million towards assessments and remedial work on their homes, including attic insulation. There are also schemes for local authority houses and social housing, including the warmer homes scheme.
However, the new scheme would vastly accelerate the retro-fitting of the national housing stock, with upwards of 90,000 dwellings a year being retro-fitted over a period of 10 to 12 years.
The funding model would also radically alter in order for change of that magnitude to be achieved. Officials believe that extending the grant scheme would not be feasible or realistic.
Instead, electricity and energy utility companies would be given new obligations to reduce progressively the amount of energy they generate each year.
Their roles would change to allow them to offer retro-fitting services and financing. Homeowners would get an assessment carried out by the utility. After completion, the cost would then form part of the utility bill, to be paid off over a long period of time.
Costs of retro-fitting vary, but some estimates put the average cost at €15,000 for each dwelling, or €18 billion for the national housing stock.
According to a Government source: “What puts most people off is the up-front cost of the work. This will allow them to pay the cost over a long period.”