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Ireland’s Credit Unions on target to retrofit 2,000 homes in 2021

By News

Credit Unions secure grant funding support from SEAI for unique end to end survey and finance package

Credit Unions are best placed to become primary source of finance for nationwide retrofit project

The Credit Union Development Association [CUDA], which currently runs Ireland’s first end-to-end home retrofit scheme – ProEnergy Homes, has partnered with Retrofit Energy Ireland (REIL) to secure grant funding support from the SEAI and has announced an expansion of the popular scheme, opening it up to all other credit unions.

CUDA report that, such is the demand from participating credit unions, half of the 2021 SEAI €1.5m in grant aid is already allocated, but as part the agreement, it is anticipated that additional funding will be sought in the second quarter.

The Pro Energy Home Scheme was first piloted by CUDA in early 2019 across 20 credit unions and was quickly oversubscribed. The scheme has proven popular as it takes all the “leg-work” away from the homeowner. Homeowners simply fill out an application form with their local participating credit union, after which REIL conducts an assessment on their property and present them with a report.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of CUDA explained why the scheme is so popular with homeowners,

As the trusted provider of financial services in communities throughout Ireland, credit unions are uniquely positioned to support the delivery of a one-stop-shop model for home energy retrofits.

A national project management firm (REIL) is appointed to oversee all surveys and works, grant funding of up to 35% is available from SEAI for all qualifying works and low-rate financing is made available for the balance of costs through the applicant’s local credit union.  To-date public demand for the scheme through participating credit unions has been strong, demonstrating people’s appetite for a ‘one-stop-shop’ model.

Based on the current level of interest from credit union members and the number of credit unions signing up to the scheme, we’ll need to look for additional funding shortly and can envisaging the annual level of grant application running at €6m – €10m.”

According to Josephine Maguire of SEAI,

“The SEAI recognises that access to finance can be a barrier to residential retrofitting so we are pleased to once again support credit unions in delivering the ProEnergy Homes scheme that provides access to finance at competitive rates to their Members. The SEAI has supported the ProEnergy Homes scheme for a number of years and the one-stop-shop model has proven to be a case study for the delivery of residential retrofitting at the ambitious scale targeted in the National Climate Action Plan.”

Commenting on the partnership, Minister of State with responsibility for Financial Services, Credit Unions and Insurance, Sean Fleming TD said “Credit Unions are uniquely positioned to support retrofitting plans in local communities across Ireland. I truly believe that the expansion of the ProEnergy Homes scheme, and similar schemes, will be a boost for local communities and will help the Government achieve its climate action targets.”

The Pro Energy Home Scheme model combines everything an applicant will need under a simple, unified process including an independent home survey report setting out their options, a dedicated project manager to arrange contractors, quality assurance on the works completed, access to low-rate credit union loans to finance the works.

CUDA say the scheme has now been tweaked slightly in response to the pandemic. Home surveys and works will resume as soon as it is safe to do so, but in the interim, a team of expert project managers and surveyors are available for telephone consultations with interested applicants. The ‘free and no obligations’ call-backs can be requested from www.proenergyhomes.ie and applicants will have the opportunity to discuss all their available options and receive professional advice on any technical questions they may have.

The average amount spent is about €14,000 made up of grant, savings and borrowings. The most popular measures undertaken in 2020 were external wall insulation, new glazing. Multi zone boiler controls also proved very popular. The scheme covers retrofits to a range of energy systems, including attic insulation, external wall insulation, the installation of solar panels, and upgrades to windows, among others.

Mr Johnson added, “Presently, SEAI grants will fund up to 35% of the cost of your retrofit. In our experience of running the scheme, the cost to the average household of bringing their home up to the recommended B2 level rating will cost approximately €30,000 – €40,000. So, just accounting for 35% of that cost through grant aid will leave a bill of roughly €26,000 for works. We recommend homeowners to use some saving to help lower the cost of any additional borrowing to cover the remaining bill, or indeed to cover the full cost of works, depending on how much they have saved. For example, take a cost of €40,000 to get a home to a B2 rating – the 35% grant will cover €14,000, which leaves €26,000 for the homeowner to cover. If they have €10,000 saved – this reduces the amount to be financed by a ProEnergy loan to €16,000.”

Mr. Johnson also welcomed the Governments clear commitment to supporting upskilling and job creation nationally as demand grows for retrofitting projects,

“As community organisations, credit unions are anxious to support local tradespeople. CUDA supports the Government’s announcement of four new centres of excellence to train 2,000 people in retrofit skills[1]. Upskilling existing tradespeople nationally will allow for job creation across the country and will support local economies while ensuring competition keeps prices and exchequer funding to a minimum.”

[1] https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/16253-minister-harris-announces-four-new-retrofitting-centres-of-excellence/

CUDA welcomes budget increases for home retrofit grants, but incentivising homeowners to use a combination of grants, loans and savings could be key to success of retrofits

By News

500,000 home retrofit target will not be reached unless the costs are affordable for average households, increases for SEAI grant schemes announced in todays budget are a very positive development but incentivising the use of surplus household savings may be an important piece of the puzzle

·         Credit Unions are best placed to become primary source of finance for nationwide retrofit project

·         A Government commitment for community schemes throughout Ireland will create thousands of jobs & reduce fuel poverty in households

The Credit Union Development Association [CUDA], that currently runs Ireland’s first end-to-end home retrofit scheme – ProEnergy Homes, has welcomed today’s budget announcement of an additional funding for SEAI grant schemes and the acknowledgement by Minister Eamon Ryan that this will be delivered primarily through community organisations like credit unions. This announcement is a major achievement for the SEAI and allows them to build on the work they have been doing over many years.

In 2019, 25 Credit Unions nationally piloted the ProEnergy Homes scheme. Under this approach, a national project management firm (REIL) was appointed to oversee all surveys and works, grant funding of 35% was available from SEAI for all qualifying works and low rate financing was made available for the balance of costs through the applicant’s local credit union.  CUDA reported at the time that public demand for the scheme was enormous, demonstrating people’s appetite for a ‘one-stop-shop’ model.

Following a review of the pilot scheme, CUDA determined that while the public demand for this model is high, in order to meet the Government’s target to retrofit 500,000 homes and bring them to a B2 energy rating by 2030, analysing the affordability of retrofit projects for the average household will be vital.  CUDA say in their experience of running ProEnergy Homes, the average costs per household run to approximately €30,000 – €40,000 to bring homes to B2 energy rating. The most popular measures undertaken in 2019 were external wall insulation, new glazing. Multi zone boiler controls also proved very popular.

SEAI grants will fund a generous 35% of the costs, but many homeowners will still be left with a bill of roughly €26,000 for their retrofit. While many credit unions will offer preferential finance rates for home retrofits (around 6.9% unsecured or 4.9% when backed by shares); financing retrofits over 5 years will see repayments of around €500 per month, which is still out of reach for many middle-income families.

One possible solution could be to incentivise homeowners to use some of their savings to lower the costs of financing the works. Central Bank data shows that Irish households have saved an additional €10bn this year alone with household savings now standing at record levels. Encouraging homeowners to use some of their savings, say by toping up any savings used in a fashion similar to the Help to Buy Scheme, would make home retrofits much more accessible for the average family.

For example, with costs of €40,000 to get a home to a B2 rating, grants will cover €14,000 leaving €26,000 to be covered by the homeowner. If they have managed to build up some additional savings that they can use, say €10,000 and were incentivised to use these with a 10% or €1,000 top up, the amount to be financed falls to €15,000. Financing this over 5 years would see monthly repayments of around €295 which is very typical of average home improvement loan repayments for Irish households.

Using some of the savings they have built up would allow a homeowner not only to retrofit their home and take advantage of all the benefits that brings in terms of ongoing savings for home heating, home comfort and health, but would also significantly reduce the cost of credit for the portion of the costs being financed. Making retrofits more affordable and accessible for middle income families also brings major benefits for the broader economy as greater uptake of energy retrofits has the potential to create thousands of jobs over the coming decade.

While the cross-Departmental Retrofit Taskforce will develop a new long-term national retrofit delivery model, CUDA believes that several measures should be put in place immediately and have communicated these to Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Eamon Ryan.

  1. Homeowners should be encouraged to use some of their savings toward the project rather than having to rely solely on credit.
  2. No group is better positioned than credit unions to support retrofitting plans in local communities across Ireland.
  3. There is a pressing need to develop a training programme for local tradespeople across the country so that more local workers would be able to carry on the necessary home improvements to the required standards for homeowners availing of schemes.
  4. The government should continue to fully support multi-annual grant budgets for the SEAI so that retrofitting schemes can operate unencumbered year-round.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of CUDA explained their position

While we are hugely supportive of the Minister in relation to the massive undertaking of retrofitting 500 thousand homes and commend the important announcement in the budget today, we believe that certain simple changes are necessary if the target is to be achieved. We have been engaging with the Minister in relation to these issues as we truly believe that the expansion of the ProEnergy Homes scheme will boost local communities at their time of need and have tangible and meaningful socio-economic benefits. Recent reports suggest retrofitting homes to bring them to a B2 energy rating standard or above, could significantly reduce fuel poverty*. It could also see the creation of 1000s of construction sector jobs if run efficiently and taken up on a large scale.

As the trusted provider of financial services in communities throughout Ireland, credit unions are uniquely positioned to support the delivery of a one-stop-shop model for home energy retrofits. We understand that for many households the past few months have been incredibly difficult and will unfortunately remain difficult for some time. However, some households have been in a fortunate position to build up savings this year and this is borne out in record savings inflows to credit unions since March. At a time when the interest rates and dividends available on these savings will be at or near zero, investing in a home retrofit could make a lot of sense. Combining some savings with a low rate loan will make the monthly repayments very affordable and there are many benefits; lower heating bills, a more comfortable home and the opportunity to support local tradespeople.

The announcement of the [Training\apprenticeship Programme] is an incredibly important initiative so that local tradespeople can be upskilled to complete works to the higher standards expected when retrofitting a residential house to B2 rating. As community organisations, credit unions are anxious to support local tradespeople, but too few have been trained to the standards expected on deep retrofits. Upskilling existing tradespeople nationally would allow for the creation of panels across the country that will support local economies while ensuring competition keeps prices and exchequer funding to a minimum.

Ends

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Fuel Poverty is described as spending at least 10% of a household income on keeping a home warm