Belfast Telegraph

Energy efficiency is good for our pockets

The Northern Ireland Green New Deal group plans to revive the province’s economy through job creation while building a sustainable energy network

By Clare Weir

As Prime Minister in 2008, Gordon Brown made a famous faux pas in Parliament when he avowed that the Government had “saved the world” with a £37bn recapitalisation of the banks.

However, in a new report today, one group is promising to save not only the world but the Northern Ireland economy.

In the document being launched at Stormont, a rainbow coalition of groups is promising to kick-start the Northern Ireland economy and provide jobs by harnessing energy efficiency in homes, and eventually businesses, all over the country.

The Northern Ireland Green New Deal group is launching a business plan which will propose, through investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, ways of tackling the |recession, energy security and climate change.

The Green New Deal group is a coalition of 40 organisations and individuals from across the public, private and third sectors led by Bryson Group, the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), Energy Saving Trust, Friends of the Earth, Irish Confederation of Trade Unions, the Institute of Directors, Nicva, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Sustainable Development Commission, Utility Regulator and Ulster Farmers Union.

The plan is being supported by high profile MLAs from all the main parties including the Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry, the SDLP’s Conal McDevitt, Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin, Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs and the DUP’s Simon Hamilton.

Iain Osborne, chair of the Northern Ireland Green New Deal group and outgoing chief executive of the Utility Regulator in Northern Ireland, said the plan will reinvigorate private sector businesses and industries which have been suffering through lack of jobs and apprentices.

“Our initial plan is to target 100,000 homes over the first three years and 500,000 in the next 10,” he said.

“The benefit of this proposal is that it is ‘oven ready’ and work could start on the ground by October 2011. The employment and economic benefits would be immense. These are things that all householders probably know they should have done already but have not had the time, the inclination or the support on a big scale. There would also be grants on offer for those who want to or need to avail of them.

“Including things like cavity wall and loft insulation, newer boilers, solar panels and the like we estimate that each home transformation could cost the householder £800. We realise that not everyone has £800 lying around, so we have made arrangements for a ‘pay as you save’ scheme. We also estimate that the householder could make savings of £300 a year, even in the first year.

“Unlike other plans, this one is unique in terms of bringing the CBI, trades unions, the public, private and voluntary sectors — over 40 different bodies and groups. In the future the plan is to widen the scheme to benefit the public and commercial sectors.

“We estimate that transferring this plan to public buildings could save the sectors up to a fifth of their energy costs, around £60m a year.

“The beauty of this proposal is that there are so many groups involved, many coming at it from very different angles and with different motivations but all agreeing that it is the way forward.

“No one can argue with increasing jobs, no one can argue with saving money and the fact that it will be beneficial to the planet is a huge bonus.

“It will also provide a huge boost to those businesses and trades suffering as a result of the recession and downturn in the building trade.

“There is already a shortage |of skilled labourers and a lack of people willing to take up apprenticeships in those trades, and this plan would create rapid employment.

“The question now is what |the Government will do, as this is a hugely attractive proposal for them.

“Energy efficiency is a big issue and investing further in such measures can help balance out the huge cuts to the Northern Ireland capital programme, one of the biggest victims of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

“We are asking for £72m investment from the Government, which will result in an £181m injection from the private sector.

“The Government can not just keep cutting to save — we need a strategic response and it will leave us fitter and leaner when the bounce-back does come.

“We’ve had a lot of warm words from the political parties and we feel we have a plan that fits the bill and nothing to rival it. We have a very robust business plan, investment is needed initially, but in order to make huge savings in the long run it must be led by the private sector.

“With my Utility Regulator hat on, I can say that the fossil fuel providers are also in favour of this move, strange as it may seem. Everybody realises that efficiencies are crucial. In the regulatory business, we don’t do flaky and we don’t do political. Here is something credible and concrete with

huge support across the board ready to deliver jobs and investment almost immediately.”

Nigel Smyth, regional director of the Confederation of British Industry said the Government should “grab” the opportunities presented in the New Green |Deal “with both hands”. This |plan will reduce the risk to |local people of rising energy |prices and will reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.

“The return vastly outweighs the initial investment needed from the Government.

“The pay-as-you-save aspect is new and will be unique in Northern Ireland. The plans could help cut a total of £52,000 of energy costs and prompt up to a 25% reduction in carbon emissions.

“The plan could help reduce fuel poverty, will be hugely beneficial to the social housing sector and it’s predicted, cut millions from the healthcare budget as people will be living in warmer, cleaner homes. Jobs wise, it’s predicted that there could be between 2400 to 3500 direct jobs, excluding the supply chain and knock-on roles and positions.

“It’s thought that the Government already invests £60bn a year on energy efficiency programmes and schemes. Our plan represents a smaller investment and much more conjoined approach.

“These plans have been in discussion for over a year. The existing players are already well established, we need no big earth-moving developments or innovations or technologies, everything is already in existence, ready to go.

“The payback is very attractive. These schemes are already beginning to happen nationally and we don’t want to get left behind. We already have higher energy prices here compared to other regions and we don’t want to be continually penalised when these alternatives exist and are cost-effective.

“It’s obvious, and this is borne out in the many supporters from different business backgrounds, that this is a win-win plan for everyone. This is a great opportunity which should be grabbed with both hands.

“This is the way ahead for Northern Ireland plc.”

Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is another supporter of the scheme.

“This document and comprehensive business plans could be a very important step for the future of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“There is an eclectic mix of people and groups behind the New Green Deal for a reason — it’s something that everyone can agree is very positive as an |instrument of job creation, a |way to improve the environment and a way to save money in the long term and get us back on the road to recovery.

“It ticks boxes for everyone.

“We have a very strong coalition who will be lobbying the politicians, we need the backing |behind it.

“Jobs wise, this will see a real mix of old and new skills and technology. We have the traditional hands on skills, we have new, emerging green technologies and we could have the old giants of the manufacturing industries like Harland and Wolff, who are market leaders in producing turbines, all working together.

“This plan, if implemented, could put Northern Ireland ahead of the pack in terms of energy efficiency in homes and businesses. We could send people abroad to teach them what we have done and people could come here to look and learn — the spin-off potential is enormous.

“If this goes ahead it could be an inspiration to innovators everywhere.”

Belfast Telegraph