10 June 2022

Where there's smoke, there's ire: wood heaters in the firing line as temps drop and pollution rises

| Lottie Twyford
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In the ACT, woodfire heater smoke is the largest source of winter air pollution. Photo: Ergyn Meshekran.

Low-income Canberrans may soon be able to replace their woodfire heaters for free, following a motion brought forward by ACT Greens Member for Brindabella Johnathan Davis.

Concerns over the health, environmental and climate impacts of wood heaters are nothing new, particularly for Mr Davis’ constituents in the Tuggeranong Valley.

A recent report showed woodfire heater smoke is the largest source of winter air pollution in Canberra.

Currently, around 14 per cent of people in the ACT use a woodfire heater as their main source of heating.

Analysis of air quality shows the impacts of smoke are worse down south because the shape of the valley and temperature inversions hold pollutants closer to the ground.

In 2020, there were 37 days in Tuggeranong when pollution levels were above acceptable levels; of those, 13 can be attributed to woodfire heater emissions, Mr Davis told the ACT Legislative Assembly.

“People are noticing. I have been contacted by many constituents who are worried for their own health, the health of their families and the health of their community,” he said.

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While the ACT Government already has a Wood Heater Replacement Program which offers rebates up to $1250 for the removal and disposal of wood-burning heaters, or replacement with an efficient electric system, Mr Davis argued this wasn’t well used.

“It is not fit-for-purpose,” he said.

“Not only has money rolled over each year in each budget in each year since 2016, showing it is not well utilised, but anecdotal evidence would also suggest most who take advantage of the scheme are getting the rebate after they had already made the transition and had the upfront funds to do so.”

He said the trial must first be targeted at low-income households to address the latter.

Johnathan Davis

ACT Greens MLA Johnathan Davis raised the issue of wood heaters on behalf of his constituents in the Tuggeranong Valley. Photo: Region Media.

He called on the ACT Government to establish a trial which would completely remove all upfront costs associated with the transition from wood heaters to electric heaters.

This would include the removal of the wood heater, purchase and installation of a new reverse cycle unit and the repairs of any property damage associated with the transition.

“I’ve heard from households who want to transition from wood heaters to electric heaters. Unfortunately, current programs provide little incentive to make the switch,” Mr Davis said.

“With rebates requiring households to have the funds upfront, it is difficult for low-income households to see value in the program.

“I know there are some in the community who will continue to advocate for a ban on wood heaters; however, I believe in a ‘more carrot, less stick’ approach. I’m confident that a trial like the one I’ve proposed strikes the right balance.”

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Mr Davis’s motion also called on the government to continue to raise awareness of the programs and remove as many of the “hoops to jump through” as possible in the application stage.

The ACT Government’s Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy 2021-2025, published in November 2021, highlighted the importance of people using their wood heaters correctly.

Installing wood heaters in some new development areas is also prohibited in the ACT.

Mr Davis’ motion passed the ACT Legislative Assembly with tripartisan support.

Original Article published by Lottie Twyford on Riotact.

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