Irish credit unions roll out energy-efficiency scheme for households

The scheme is delivered by CUDA's Solutions Centre alongside sustainability and retrofit experts

This month sees the launch of a home improvement fund for credit union members in Ireland, which is aimed at boosting energy efficiency.

The Pro Energy Homes Scheme is being delivered by the Solution Centre, which develops technical services for the credit union sector, in conjunction with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Retrofit Energy Ireland Ltd.

It will be rolled out to 20 credit unions across the country after a successful pilot in five credit unions in Dublin, which ran from August to September last year.

The scheme provides:

  • Easy-access to SEAI grant funding of 35% towards the cost of approved energy upgrades to an applicant’s home
  •  Low-cost finance for the balance of the costs from participating credit unions
  • A dedicated project manager to support applicants every step of the way
  • A qualifying home survey and report

Cathal Tyther, manager of the Solution Centre, said: “We weren’t surprised by the strong uptake during the pilot phase, as a recent SEAI consumer survey found that 74% of people said that they hadn’t previously considered upgrading their property as they did not have sufficient funds to consider an energy reduction project in their home.

“We are delighted our credit unions are supporting their members by providing low-cost finance to make energy upgrades attainable for more people because the benefits for our members, their communities and environment are enormous.

“This year we are targeting a tenfold increase in the number of works the scheme supports, by expanding the scheme to around 20 credit unions nationally. Our main focus is to make the homes more comfortable, more efficient and to reduce carbon emissions.

“We will also be extending the original deadline to allow the initiative to run over the summer months and into early autumn – so that people can avail of the long evenings and fine weather to get external home works carried out.”

The Dublin pilot scheme saw members borrow an average of €10,000 and spend an average of €15,000, on upgrades such as attic, cavity and external wall insulation insulation, solar panels for water heating, heating system and controls upgrade, and window upgrades.

As programme coordinators, REIL is responsible for the procurement and completion of all works.

Paddy Sweeney, managing director of REIL said: “With this initiative, we have taken all the legwork away from the homeowner. All they need to do is fill out an application form, after which REIL will conduct an assessment on their property and present them with a report.

“They can then decide whether or not they would like to proceed. Absolutely no money changes hands until all improvements have been made. From beginning to end, the input required by the homeowner is minimal.”

He added: “There is easy access to grant funding which will significantly reduce the cost by 35%, while repayments on the credit union loan funding the balance of the costs of works can typically be expected to be largely offset by the reduced energy cost in the majority of cases.

“The payback periods can be relatively short, particularly for items such as attic and cavity wall insulation, heating controls and replacing an open fire with a solid fuel stove. So many people funding this with a credit union loan over 5-7 years could be making net savings within 5 years, as well as having a cosier house from the get-go.”

Kevin Johnson, CEO of the Credit Union Development Association, the representative group for Irish largest credit unions and the organisation behind the Solution Centre, said: “The idea of making a home cosier and cheaper to run appeals to most homeowners, but they struggle to know what to do and who to talk to, and the idea of completing grant and loan applications forms is enough to put most people off.

“We knew that if we wanted to encourage homeowners to significantly improve the energy efficiency of their homes, we needed to make it easy for them to do so. And that’s exactly with the scheme does. This is an important first step for credit unions in supporting their communities by providing finance for sustainable purposes.”

Josephine Maguire, national coordinator for better energy with SEAI said: “The availability of attractive finance options is an important factor in people’s decision to upgrade their homes. Easier access to low-cost finance from a local credit union should be very attractive to many people.”

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