Plane with thermal cameras to check on woodburners

By Patrick O'Sullivan patrick osullivan@hbtoday co nz

17 comments
HEATED: Approved wood merchant John Caulton says the regional council should be targeting cowboy wood merchants to eliminate smog. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR HBT141323-02
HEATED: Approved wood merchant John Caulton says the regional council should be targeting cowboy wood merchants to eliminate smog. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR HBT141323-02

Night flights with thermal cameras will be tracking down illegal smog-producing fires in Napier and Hastings.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council's HeatSmart programme co-ordinator Mark Heaney said the programme had been successfully trialled in Canterbury.

By using data already held on compliant fires, illegal ones could easily be identified by the strong chimney heat image.

"We have a record of every compliant fire that has been installed since 2005 through both Napier and Hastings councils when they issue a permit for the installation of a fire under the requirements of the Building Act," he said.

"On top of that, the regional council has records of every loan and every grant that has been given since the programme started in 2009."

By putting all information onto a map it would be easy to identify older wood burners that can produce smog, he said.

The thermal images could also be used for prospective house purchasers, to see how effective the building's insulation was.

"If at the time of the photograph being taken the fire was being used the property would show a hot spot. We can then cross off all of the hot spots that are compliant and it will tell us we are the ones are that aren't compliant."

The regional council is responsible for government targets to lower the amount of tiny air particles, PM 10s, that are hazardous to health.

Urban areas in Napier and Hastings face most of the controls on household fires.

"In the urban areas under the HeatSmart programme there are phase-out dates for non-compliant fires dependent on age.

"The course of events that would normally happen are that if we were able to prove your fire was non-compliant, the phase-out programme had prohibited it from use, then you would first be issued with an abatement notice.

"If you infringed that abatement notice then you would be liable to a fine."

The first offence would be subject to $300 fine, increasing incrementally for further offences.

"The important thing from a regional council's point of view is to encourage people by offering or making the purchase of a compliant fire more affordable, rather than banging them over the head with a stick using the legislation.

"The council recognised that affordability was certainly going to be an issue for some people and they wanted to assist."

The council provides two options.

Homeowners receive $608 cash to decommission their wood burner and replace it with a clean heat source, or the money could go to the supplier of the new clean heat source.

The second option is a loan facility.

The council takes out a bank loan up to $4500 and pays half the interest.

"So the real interest rate for the ratepayer is 3.25 per cent, which is a pretty good rate over 10 years.

"It is a rate on the property.

"They pay that back by automatic payment on a monthly basis."

He said people preferred the grant to the loan by two to one.

"I think that's a reflection of the economic times.

"People don't want to take on debt. It is literally like the regional council discounting the price of the new fire by $700, or a heat pump, gas fire or pellet burner."

He said the pellet burner was not often chosen "but some like the technological side of it".

"It is competitive in terms of fuel costs and of course they have got lower emissions than a normal fire."

The average loan amount since the programme started in 2009 has been about $3500.

The subsidies will be available until 2020.

"Because of the sheer volume we anticipate being exchanged, which is about 10,000 to make a difference, you couldn't do it in one year. The manufacturers couldn't cope with the volume and the installers couldn't cope.

"So part of the plan was to have three phase outs.

"The first phase out was open fires, they are the least efficient, followed by the pre-1996 fires to be phased out as of January.

Pre-1996 fires are now prohibited from use if they are not compliant and the next phase out will be 2016 and that will be the 1996 to 2005 fires.

"Technically the policing starts as of now and it started effectively from January 12."

He said some landlords were writing into tenancy agreements that non-compliant fires were not to be used.

"If it's in writing it puts the onus on the tenant rather than the landlord, but the Tenancy Tribunal had ruled that if a non-compliant fireplace was part of the original tenancy agreement then the property owner has an obligation to provide compliant heating."

He said people needed to do some basic basic mathematics before replacing one heat source with another.

"You can't compare a 5kW heat pump with a 21kW fire, so if people are making a conscious decision to choose a particular heat source they have to do a comparison for running costs and outputs."

Some people had not done that.

"There are examples of people that have taken a fire out and put in a heat pump.

"They have been faced with a high power bill because they have left it on automatic instead of using it economically and have decided that they want to go back to a fire."

There are only three models of wood burner that are permitted to be modified rather than replaced. The council will pay for the modification to the three Firenzo models, made in Hawke's Bay.

Firenzo sales and marketing manager Steve McCarty said the modification meant the fire could not be completely damped down overnight, which caused any fire to smoulder and smoke.

"If they can damp it right down chances are it is a non-compliant fire," he said.

Modern fires also had secondary combustion, which burned up most of the smoke older fires spewed into the atmosphere.

They were designed to burn wood with less than 25 per cent moisture, he said.

"The industry thinks it may have been better to educate wood merchants or the people that use wood fires that if you use dry wood you get a better, more efficient burn.

"It is more economic and you don't get smoke.

"You can have the most compliant fire and if you put damp wood on it and it will smoke."

Council-approved wood merchant Woodstocks owner John Caulton said people were suffering because they had given up their fire because of the high cost of replacement, many were ineligible because their home was not insulated, and were now vulnerable to electricity price rises for a heat pump that only warmed a fraction of the house.

"Given the costs, landlords and homeowners are being herded toward electric heating.

"This will lead to to increased poverty," he said.

"Certainly the HeatSmart programme will help improve air quality and everyone should support that objective.

"The debate is about the method."

He said the programme failed to address the real cause of airborne pollution from home heating wood burners: Poor quality of the firewood.

"Poor quality firewood is often supplied by unscrupulous firewood merchants who are usually unregistered and do not have the expertise, resources or motivation to ensure the optimum product has been burned," he said.

"They are able to undercut registered suppliers because they often deal in cash and therefore evade taxes.

"The public are naturally attracted to the cheaper product without fully appreciating the impacts of buying wet wood.

"It is up to 50 per cent less efficient than dry wood and of course is the main contributor to air pollution.

"There exist numerous local educative protections against these cowboy wood merchants but the matter is poorly policed at both national and local level."

Mr Heaney said the council's hands were tied, noting: "It is not illegal to sell wet wood."

Mr Caulton said he was disappointed in the lack of political will. He said the HeatSmart programme registered wood suppliers but there was little advantage for their designation as approved suppliers.

"It is those who haven't signed up who are the problem.

"They have no obligation to minimum standards and continue as they have always done.

"These are the people who need to be targeted.

"If good quality firewood is regulated and enforced then citizens will be able to enjoy all the benefits of the wood fire and that regional council would will be well on its way to meeting the PM 10 obligations.

"In some instances the registered supplier is struggling to compete and locally and some have ceased trading due to pressure from firewood cowboys."

He said politicians had taken the road of least resistance.

"It is easy to sit in the air-conditioned offices and enact legislation and bylaws that achieve a narrow goal, but fail to take account of negative impacts on the people they are employed to serve."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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