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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 18 June 2009) . . Page.. 2592 ..


As to other actions we could pursue, we could follow the lead of Launceston where, from 2001 to 2004, 4,000 wood heaters were removed and pollution levels were halved. This came from a very strong public education campaign. Smoke patrols targeted Launceston households with smoky chimneys and the entire city was surveyed every three or four weeks. A friendly notification card was left in the letterboxes of households. Previous market research had shown this was an acceptable way of telling residents and these cards indicated that during particular periods unacceptable smoke levels were observed. If the levels were observed a second time a first warning letter was issued and, if necessary, on a third occasion a final warning letter was issued. Up until 2004 no fines were imposed, but incentives for changing to cleaner wood heating alternatives were offered. This was a staged funding scheme offered to owned and rented residences and to properties operated by community groups and associations.

Another easy and obvious step the government could take to reduce wood smoke is by banning the installation of wood heaters in new housing stock and mandating that all new housing meets energy efficiency standards and, in particular, mandating passive solar orientation so that we can all take advantage of the free non-polluting heat from the sun. Good insulation, which can, of course, be retrofitted—and here I would have to commend the federal government’s program in particular—will reduce the need for heating. But I would also like to stress the need for the insulation to be installed properly. We have had some disappointing comments from constituents about poor insulation and, in particular, Housing ACT not always managing to do good insulation installations. One constituent was so cold afterwards that she ended up buying a wood heater. For some people, this is a very cheap form of heating if they can find a cheap form of firewood.

We would like to see greater incentives for the replacement of wood heating, at the same time as offering to improve the insulation of houses so that they are at least up to a three-star level, if not higher. Whatever solution the ACT government pursues, we think it is important to take a triple-bottom-line approach because in some cases wood heating can be a fairly sustainable form of heating if the wood heater is efficient and the wood comes from a well-managed, sustainable, renewable source. Of course, electric resistance heating is probably the worst form of heating in Canberra, given the fact that most of our electricity comes from coal-fired sources.

We also have to remember that electric heating is expensive. It is, unfortunately, about double the cost of running a wood heater. I come back to the need for good design in the first place. Heat pumps can be good but in Canberra they have their Achilles heel. When it is really, really cold they are only as efficient as an electric resistance heater. Still, as that is not all the time, they are a plus. I suggest that heat pumps be added to the list of things that the government will fund in its wood heater replacement program.

In conclusion, this is a very complex issue. In considering it I would like the government to take a proper triple-bottom-line approach in terms of looking after people’s health, people’s costs and the environment.


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