When Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Housing and Spatial Planning, CDA) presented his plans for making buildings more sustainable at the beginning of June, gas cost about 2.30 euros per cubic meter. A household now pays 3.77 euros with a new contract – and no one knows where that price will end. That is grist to the mill of a minister who has promised that 2.5 million homes will be insulated by 2030, you would think. After all, the incentive to reduce gas consumption has never been greater. But the cabinet is also investing tens of billions of euros in alleviating the pain of citizens due to the high energy bill. From next year, for example, a price ceiling of 1.45 euros per cubic meter of gas will apply. Doesn’t that go against the sustainability goals? De Jonge is, as always, optimistic, as appears in a conversation in his office, a few months after the presentation of his sustainability agenda. “The need to get started has only increased,” he says. “A year ago I heard quite a bit of skepticism: do I really have to get off the gas? That sound has died down. Climate change can no longer be denied. And we all want to become less dependent on Putin.” The cabinet has discussed various variants of the price ceiling, says De Jonge. The chosen variant only applies to small consumers. “The incentive to become more sustainable remains. Insulation pays off. The average payback time of a hybrid heat pump is seven years, and the lifespan is fifteen years. So it is still a profitable investment.” Also read: What exactly will the energy ceiling look like, and what will the energy bill be? What do you expect from coming winters? “We don’t know what the gas prices will do. But I don’t think they’ll ever go back to what they were. The price ceiling will only help people through this winter, for the long term there is only one real solution: sustainability. The pace has to pick up.” Research agency TNO states that things are not going fast enough. In order to achieve the targets, 300,000 homes must be made more sustainable each year. Far more than the 100,000 and 30,000 homes that have been insulated and made natural gas-free in recent years. “I agree that it should be faster. Many of the ideas they offer are our plans. For example, the homes with the worst energy labels are the first to insulate. On Budget Day, we made an extra 300 million euros available for this.” What progress has been made in this area since your arrival? “A lot of legislation is being prepared, such as the ban on renting out homes with a bad energy label from 2030. And we are fully engaged in the field of communication, for example with information to homeowners via the site Improvementjehuis.nl. The area-oriented approach for municipalities, which will be launched next year, is taking shape. Municipalities will then decide: which neighborhoods can get rid of gas, and where do we support people in making them more sustainable? In some places it is very necessary that we make an offer door by door to get everyone up and running.” Much still needs to be done to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement: a 55 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. But there is no accurate overview of the current status of making buildings more sustainable. Emptying the subsidy pot is the only guideline. How do you know if your policy is working? “We know more and more, but we need to monitor it much more precisely. Actually in real time . I think it is possible, for example by looking at gas consumption. We see that falling – and that is what you want to achieve, because it is the main cause of CO 2 emissions in the built environment. We also know how many homes have been made more sustainable by housing associations. And we look at energy labels: the average label height is an important indicator of how things are going.” Energy labels are often outdated, because homeowners only apply for them when they move. “I think that information is also becoming more and more accurate. People think sustainability is more important. Until recently, 1930s homes sold like hot cakes, now they are on the market for much longer if they have not been preserved. Banks are also looking more closely at the label and that is logical, because the label determines your spending scope.” The cabinet will spend 290 million euros this year on subsidies for sustainability for home owners. Which income groups mainly make use of this? “Low-income homeowners are relatively less. That makes sense, because most middle and high incomes live in owner-occupied homes. My commitment is that everyone can participate. We pay 30 percent of all sustainability measures. Anyone can borrow the remaining 70 percent from the Heat Fund, at a lower interest rate than at the bank, or even no interest at all. We also have all kinds of subsidies for rental housing.” With private landlords there is no financial incentive for sustainability: after all, the benefits lie with tenants. That is why the energy label will count more in the points system from 2024, which determines the price of many rental homes. The rent will then partly depend on the degree of sustainability: a lower rent for poorer energy labels and a higher rent for better labels. For tenants, the profit on the energy bill will be greater than the higher rent. And that gives landlords an incentive to become more sustainable.” People who become more sustainable encounter practical difficulties with policy. For example, anyone who applies for a loan from the Warmtefonds must enclose a quote. But contractors don’t want to set it up for a job that they don’t know if it will go ahead. “We are working on solving that. Although we have to look carefully at how, because you don’t want fraud either. But we must implement all possible simplifications in the Heat Fund; Applying for a loan is now very complex.” A major stumbling block in the energy transition is the labor market: there are no people to carry it out. If you want solar panels now, you won’t get them for a year. “That is why Minister for Climate and Energy Rob Jetten [D66] has come up with a green job plan to ensure that more young people opt for technology and installation. There is profit to be made there, but the labor market still remains tight. Innovation is also important. For example, a heat pump must be installed in one day instead of two. We need to give a huge boost to the industrialization of construction. I think that in the future a much larger proportion of homes will be made in the factory. To speed up that process, we need to standardize the building process more. That saves nitrogen, CO 2 emissions and labor.” Also read: ‘Everyone should get started on making their home more sustainable’ You depend on many links outside your portfolio to achieve your goals – and so you depend on your colleagues. For example, the electricity grid is overloaded. “That is true, but there is no conflict of interest or a political difference of opinion. Housing is one of the tasks that requires a lot of physical space, which also applies to the transition of agriculture, energy, nature and infrastructure. That can clash with each other: after all, there is not that much available space. We have agreed in the cabinet that we will not go on the phone one by one with the provinces and ask for space individually, but first solve the puzzle ourselves.” You are an optimist. How do you ensure that you keep an eye on complications and are realistic? “I am stoically optimistic. Whether it concerns the construction of 900,000 houses or making the built environment more sustainable: those tasks are very tough and complex, but I like that. I would prefer a few people to say: ‘Actually, you can’t do that, you will never succeed.’ I find it motivating to see how it could be done after all. Of course there will be headwinds from all sides – interest rates are rising, for example, an extremely big setback for housing construction as it makes homes less affordable, consumer confidence is falling, inflation is high, the labor market tight. But in a headwind you have to pedal harder. We have no choice. If it can’t be done the way it should, then it has to be done the way it can.” These schemes are for homeowners The National Insulation Program (over 200 million euros in 2023 and 2024) provides budgets to municipalities and private individuals (including owners associations) to insulate homes. Subsidies are available for heat pumps, solar boilers, insulation and insulating glass. The state pays for 30 percent of the expenditure. The remaining 70 percent is paid by the homeowner himself. Loans at lower or no interest at all are possible through the Heat Fund. Municipalities sometimes also subsidize measures , such as energy advisers who come by at home to give advice on sustainability. From 2026, the hybrid heat pump will be mandatory if you replace the central heating boiler. These arrangements are for tenants As a tenant you are dependent on the efforts of the landlord for sustainability. Tenants do have the right of initiative to ask landlords for measures, such as insulation. For private landlords and mixed owners’ associations (with both tenants and owner-occupiers) there is a subsidy scheme for making homes natural gas-free (a maximum of 5,000 euros per home). And for the sustainability and maintenance of rental properties. In the coming years, housing associations will make 675,000 homes more sustainable and make 450,000 natural gas-free. Many municipalities offer help with energy-saving advice or energy-saving measures, for example through the approach to energy poverty (150 million euros last and this year) or with money from the Public Housing Fund. From 2024, the rent of regulated rental homes will depend more on the energy label of the home. And from 2030, it will be prohibited to rent out homes with an E, F or G energy label. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 22, 2022