The installation of new wood heaters may be banned in all suburbs as part of the ACT Government’s plans to phase out the burners by 2045 in line with the transition away from fossil fuel gas.
In response to the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment’s investigation into wood heater policy, the government has agreed in principle to recommendations for the phase-out and ban on new heaters. However, given what it acknowledges is a polarising issue, it will not rush into immediate regulation.
The government says it will first look at the options, costs and timeframes to transition households away from using wood heaters and on to electric alternatives, as well as conduct air quality and regulatory impact assessments and community consultation.
It will be part of a second action plan to support the implementation of the Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy 2021-25.
The government says an extension of the ban on new wood heaters beyond the Molonglo Valley (excluding Wright), Dunlop and East O’Malley to Tuggeranong is timely and appropriate to avoid increasing air quality issues during winter.
It says a ban in other suburbs may also be appropriate but requires further analysis.
Despite the government saying there is no safe level of exposure to wood smoke, Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the phase-out should be a just transition to electrifying the city and require garnering community support.
“We are aware that high costs of living are placing financial stress on many and the government will incorporate this consideration into our next steps to ensure we can best support the community in the phase-out process,” she said.
This will be on top of the current incentives for households to replace their wood heater.
“Work is already underway to trial ways to better tailor the Wood Heater Replacement Program to more effectively support households on low incomes,” Ms Vassarotti said.
Of the commissioner’s eight recommendations, the government has agreed or agreed in principle with four and noted one.
It says a recommendation to mandate the removal of wood heaters before a property in any ACT suburb (excluding rural areas) can be sold will require careful analysis and consultation with the community to understand the impacts.
The government did not agree to recommendations including a heater register and mandatory health labelling, deciding that the costs to implement these recommendations would outweigh the proposed benefits, particularly given the decision to move to phase out wood fire heaters.
“I appreciate many Canberrans grew up with woodfired heaters and they offer nostalgic charm and comfort,” Ms Vassarotti said.
“However, we need to confront the reality that the smoke they emit is a direct source of pollution in our homes, a clear and present danger to the well-being of our community in urban and suburban areas, and a looming threat to our natural environment.”
ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment Dr Sophie Lewis welcomed the government’s commitment to phase out wood heaters by 2045.
“My investigation showed that there is no safe level of air pollution for human health. Wood heaters have no place in Canberra’s all-electric, 100 per cent renewable energy future,” she said.