Page 1034 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 17 March 2010

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As well as changing the heating systems in people’s homes, wood fuel alternatives have become more readily available for domestic use. There is actually a wide range of wood wastes, including sawdust, bark and municipal wood waste that are not as environmentally harmful. In many parts of Sweden and Finland, for instance, small diameter thinnings and treetops are chipped and used directly in combined heating and power plants in community heating plants.

For people who prefer wood heating, there are cleaner burning options. One example of this, for instance, is wood pellet heaters, as I have already mentioned, used in wood burners that look and act as a traditional wood heater. These are being used in New Zealand, Europe, US and increasing numbers of states in Australia. Pellet burners are extremely efficient with much lower particulate emissions. The pellets are made of sawmill residue, burn for longer and do not need as much topping up as regular wood, nor do they make as much wood smoke. They are dry and have no chemical additives. In Christchurch, New Zealand, they have included wood pellet burners as part of their buyback scheme. We believe this is something the ACT government should consider. Furthermore, burning firewood that has been grown in sustainable wood production systems can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions

There should be much more detailed information explaining the health impacts from excessive amounts of wood smoke on the Department of the Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Water website, as many people are not aware of the health impacts. Therefore, greater information provisions are essential.

While I was happy to read in the Canberra Times that Mr Corbell has increased the buyback scheme from $600 to $800, it would also be good to see an increased effort around more targeted education programs. The department could go a lot further in providing a greater depth of air quality education programs.

Looking at Launceston again for a moment, their programs have included a number of initiatives on top of the replacement program, including a targeted education program and resources and activities in relation to operating wood heaters effectively, which were organised by a regional air quality officer in Launceston. This included provision of personal advice, information leaflets, advertising, promotional events, and website and media coverage.

One of the more targeted aspects of Launceston’s programs was the use of smoke patrols that have targeted Launceston households with smoky chimneys. The entire city was also surveyed every three to four weeks. A notification card was left in letterboxes of households. Previous market research had shown this to be an acceptable method of contacting residents.

These cards indicated that during particular times unacceptable smoke levels had been observed. If unacceptable smoke levels were observed a second time, a warning letter was provided and, if necessary, on a third occasion a final warning letter. To date no fines have been imposed. Incentives for changing to cleaner wood heating alternatives were offered.

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