Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte announced Thursday the launch of the Energy Efficiency Fund, which he described as "a cornerstone" of Ireland's second National Energy Efficiency Action Plan. That plan was also published last week.
The government has agreed to chip in $45 million in seed capital for the fund, with a similar amount expected from private investors for a total of $90 million, which, in addition to improving energy efficiency, is also meant to give a boost to the nation's hard-hit construction sector.
In a speech at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin, Rabbitte said projects paid for by fund will "dramatically improve energy efficiency savings in public and commercial buildings right across the country."
"Investments by the fund have the potential to create significant employment across a broad range of construction-related sectors," he said. "Experience from the existing grant schemes suggests that ... almost 450 jobs are directly supported for a year for every ($13 million) of expenditure, rising to 675 when indirect jobs are included.
"This is before competitiveness impacts due to reduced energy costs are taken into account."
Under the government's National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, ministers have committed to delivering an energy saving target of 20 percent by 2020, through which they predict Ireland will save $3.1 billion in energy costs.
Rabbitte says Ireland "is on track" to exceed the target, which he asserted will result in avoided carbon emissions of 7.7 million tons -- the equivalent to the emissions of 1.2 million homes.
Public sector buildings will be initial focus of the effort, as will commercial buildings such as the 256-year-old Rotunda Hospital, which has undergone "important efficiency measures."
"We see a significant win in terms of jobs and energy savings by placing an increased focus on energy saving in the public and commercial sectors," Rabbitte said. "We want to trigger large investments through this fund."
The government is preparing a series of requirements mandating that public sector bodies account for the consumption, procurement and reporting of energy use, the Dublin technology news website SiliconRepublic.com reported.
The Irish public sector spends $780 million-$1.04 billion per year on energy.
The government has called for pilot projects to be the first recipients of money through the energy efficiency funds, which should be available this year.
The taxpayer-provided seed capital is needed to launch the efficiency fund, the energy minister said, partly because "there is a well-established shortage of finance in the market. In an ideal world government should not have to intervene but the reality is that without stimulus the necessary finance is not being provided at the levels required to meet the demand."
Meanwhile, private banks remain reluctant to lend.
"Flow of credit to the real economy is and remains a government concern," Rabbitte said. "The fund will redress this scenario through the development of an expertise in financing energy efficiency -- ideally becoming the lender of choice for such projects."