New Solid Fuel regulations Q&A
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
I Welcome the agreement by the Government on Solid Fuel Regulations as a balanced and considered solution, that allow people in the Midlands who have traditionally relied on turf to continue to do so.
I also understand that people may have concerns and queries about what these new regulations mean for them. I hope that the below can help to allay those concerns and answer the question you might have. If you have any further questions that aren't addressed here, please contact my office on firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the difference between these regulations and the ones that were mentioned three months ago?
The regulations referred to in a parliamentary question in April were in draft form and suggested that those with turbary rights could be restricted from placing turf on the market for the sale of distribution to others. While a common-sense approach was always anticipated to how this would have been implemented, the final regulations have clarified that it is the large-scale, commercial sale of turf which is being restricted. The traditional sale and gifting of turf by turbary rights holders can continue as long as it is not sold in retail premises or over the internet or newspapers.
Does these revised regulations represent a compromise by the Green Party since three months ago?
These regulations represent a major step forward in tackling air pollution as they will prohibit the large-scale, commercial sale of smoky coal, turf and wet wood for the first time. Since 2013, successive Environment ministers have talked about extending the smoky coal ban across the rest of Ireland but have failed to do so. This measure will save thousands of lives over the coming years, while also improving quality of life and represents a major achievement for the Green Party in government.
Can people with turbary rights sell extra turf to their neighbours or to people living in towns?
Yes, provided that the sale or supply is not done by way of the internet, social or other media and does not take place from a retail premises or a public place.
Can contractors hired by people with turbary rights to cut their continue to sell that on as I’ve done in previous years?
Yes, provided that sale or supply is not done by way of the internet, social or other media and does not take place from a retail premises such as a garage forecourt.
Are these new regulations likely to reduce the use of turf by much?
By restricting the sale of turf via retail and online sales channels, it’s expected the new regulations will reduce the sale and supply of turf into larger urban areas where turf-cutting does not actually take place, thereby reducing its overall use. It will also discourage people who haven’t used turf before from buying it over the internet, or occasional users of turf from buying it at the weekend
Can people who live in towns and buy turf from a contractor continue to buy from them?
Yes, the contractor will be able to continue to sell turf in the customary way, provided such sale does not take place by way of the internet or other media, or from a retail premises.
If there’s too much smoke coming from turf fires in my local town, is there anything I can do about it?
If you consider the smoke to be a nuisance, you may make a complaint to your Local Authority and they can take action under the provisions of the Air Pollution Act.
What happened to the plan to restrict the sale of turf to communities of fewer than 500 people?
Some consideration was given to introducing geographic restrictions on turf sales, however, it was decided that the current legislative approach was more appropriate. The net effect of the new approach provides greater certainty and clarity for the public while still achieving the same objective of restricting the availability of turf in more urban areas
What happens if someone advertises turf for sale on Facebook or DoneDeal?
It will not be permitted to sell turf or other unapproved fuels online, through social media or through other forms of media. Relevant media companies will be contacted in due course to be appraised of their obligations and a specific enforcement campaign for online sales will be in place once the regulations come into effect. Any instances where fuels are found to be sold in this way should be reported to the relevant local authority for appropriate follow up and potential enforcement action.
I lease a patch of bog and cut turf there – can I continue to do so under the proposed new regulations?
These regulations do not make any changes to existing turf cutting rights, including customary rights. They are concerned instead with setting standards for solid fuels to be placed on the market for domestic heating purposes. Those with turf cutting rights can continue to cut turf for their own use and for gifting or sale to others, provided such sales do not take place by way of the internet or other media, or from a retail premises or public place.
Should the Government not wait until after the winter to introduce these regulations?
Minister Ryan first announced that new regulations would be coming in September 2021, in order to give the solid fuel industry time to prepare for the prohibition of bituminous (smoky) coal. The sector has explained that they would normally have more than 70% of their contracts for smoky coal filled for the winter ahead by this time of year but had delayed such purchasing decisions because of the anticipated introduction of these regulations. As a result, they would face very significant challenges in sourcing appropriate supplies of bituminous coal for the Irish market, given:
the volatility of the coal market internationally due to international shortages;
the ban on the importation of coal from Russia from August ;
that existing stocks of bituminous coal were to be prioritised for use in the manufacturing processes for lower smoke coal products.
Any delay in introducing the regulations would place ROI-based fuel suppliers at a distinct disadvantage compared to their NI and GB competitors where a ban on smoky coal is not currently envisaged.
If turf is so harmful why is the Government allowing those with turbary rights to continue cutting it and selling it?
There is no doubt that the smoke from turf is a harmful and inefficient way of heating a home. However, the Government appreciates that some communities have a long-standing reliance on it. In general, the practice of cutting turf is dwindling so the Government’s focus is on restricting the large-scale commercial sale of the fuel, while encouraging people to make their homes more fuel efficient and to switch to cleaner forms of fuel
Has the Government done anything to reduce the price of other fuels?
Absolutely. The Government put in place a number of measures since the last Budget including:
the Electricity Costs Emergency Benefit Payment of €200 (including VAT)
an increase in the weekly rate of the Fuel Allowance by €5 to €33 a week so that €914 was paid to eligible households over the course of the winter
an addition €125 lump sum payment on the Fuel Allowance in March followed by a further €100 in May.
a reduction in VAT from 13.5% to 9% on gas and electricity bills from the start of May until the end of October;
a cut in excise on petrol by 20c per litre and diesel by 15c per litre.
an estimated €127 saving on the PSO levy on electricity bills.
a new targeted €20 million scheme for the installation of Photo Voltaic (PV) panels for households that have a high reliance on electricity for medical reasons;
a review of the price-drivers behind electricity and natural gas bills (including network costs) with a view to mitigating cost increases for consumers and businesses in the near term.
How much extra will it cost people to switch from smoky coal to low-smoke coal?
It is not possible to provide a simple answer to this as it depends on the amount and type of fuel used. The price of solid fuels can vary at a local level, the most recent survey of costs carried out by the SEAI (April 2022) shows that low smoke coal (ovids is currently less expensive to use than bituminous (smoky) coal.
The SEAI ranks low smoke coal as the best coal of all in terms of heat delivered per cost spent. Using the right low smoke fuel for your appliance will allow your fire to burn as hot as other types of coal could do, and for longer too, therefore making it cheaper overall to heat your home.
Is there any compensation planned for households which will have to switch from burning turf as a result of these new regulations?
Anyone who has traditionally relied on turf will continue being able to access it. There are, however, a range of Government supports available for those who wish to make their home more fuel efficient, with 80% grants available to people to insulate their attics or cavity walls and up to 52% available towards the cost of deep retrofits. Free retrofits are also available for people on low-incomes or in local authority homes.
Why are there delays in applications for the Warmer Homes Scheme?
Delivering free energy upgrades to low-income households under the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme was significantly impacted in both 2020 and 2021 by the Covid-19 pandemic, when construction activity was paused for approximately 12 months in total. Furthermore there has been a surge in demand for the scheme in recent months - the SEAI received over 5,000 applications for the scheme to the end of June this year, compared with 2,874 for the whole of 2021.
To reduce the timeline to completion, and to target a monthly average of 400 completions this year, the following actions have already been taken:
The budget, at €109 million, is nearly three times the 2021 outturn (€38 million) and funding has also been sought through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF);
The SEAI has been allocated additional staff for the Warmer Homes Scheme;
The SEAI is working to Increase contractor output through active contract engagement and management.
It's been claimed that there are 3,000 deaths every year due to fuel poverty. Is this correct?
The actual figure of 2,800 refers to “excess winter mortality” and comes from a 15-year-old, all-island report which itself quotes research dating back as far as 1988 -1997. Over half a million homes have been retrofitted since then and the fuel allowance has increased by multiples in the intervening period. The report itself attributed the majority of excess deaths during winter months “cardiovascular and respiratory disease”. As such, many of these conditions are greatly exacerbated by air pollution from solid fuels, further underlining the need to switch to less harmful forms of heating.
Why isn’t the sale of wet wood being banned completely?
The sale of small amounts of wet wood, typically in bags sold from retail premises will be banned as this is usually burned straight away and not given the proper time to dry sufficiently. However, many people in rural Ireland still source wood in large quantities which they then dry over a season or two before using.
If wet wood can be sold with instructions on how to dry it, why can’t the same happen for turf?
The particulate matter that arises from burning turf in Ireland, comes from turf that has been carefully dried. While drying wood reduces the amount of emissions it creates when burned, even when dried, turf produces a higher level of air pollution in the form of particulate matter. Dry turf can produce up to five times the particulate matter of dry wood.
Will companies be able to continue importing peat briquettes from abroad?
Lignite briquettes which are often mistaken for peat briquettes are imported in small quantities at present. Under international trade law, companies will be able to continue to import any solid fuel products from abroad, provided those products comply with the new technical standards for solid fuels. Bord na Móna’s decision to cease production of peat briquettes in Ireland was a commercial decision, which is unrelated to the new regulations, and was in fact made before the new regulations were even announced. They will be able to continue selling the remaining stocks as long as they comply with the new regulations which they have indicated they will meet.
How will the ban on smoky coal be enforced?
Local Authorities are primarily responsible for the enforcement of the “smoky coal” ban within their functional areas and will have responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the new regulations.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to develop a new approach to air quality enforcement in collaboration with the Local Authority sector to improve performance. The Department is working with the Local Authority sector with a view to introducing these enhanced structures to ensure that the implementation of the new regulatory framework is supported by effective enforcement.
The focus on compliance will not be on households or bogs but on the producer and the retail sector to ensure that solid fuels follow the standards specified, that unauthorised fuels are not being made available for sale and that producers placing product on the market are properly certified and appropriately registered with the EPA.
Under the regulations the following new health standards for solid fuels will apply from 31st October this year.
Coal products and manufactured solid fuels must have a smoke emission rate of less than 10g/hour;
Manufactured part biomass products must have a smoke emission rate of less than 5g/hr;
Coal products and manufactured solid fuels, including manufactured part biomass products, must have a sulphur content of less than 2% by weight on a dry ash-free basis. Subject to a market assessment, this limit will be reduced to 1% with effect from 1 September 2025
100% biomass products, wood products and wood logs, supplies in units under 2m³, will be required to have a moisture content of 25% or less (moving to 20% with effect from 1st September 2025). Wood logs sold in larger volumes will be required to come with instructions for the purchaser on how to dry this wood.