17 October 2023

ACT Government stands firm on 2045 wood heater ban after petition gains momentum

| Claire Sams
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wood heater emitting smoke

Is the ACT Government right to phase out wood heaters? Photo: James Coleman.

The ACT Government is standing firm on its plans to phase out wood heaters by 2045, despite nearly 4000 people signing a petition for it to be scrapped.

The government announced its plans in August, in line with the transition away from fossil fuels.

It said an extension of the ban on new wood heaters beyond the Molonglo Valley (excluding Wright), Dunlop and East O’Malley to Tuggeranong would improve air quality and reduce pollution.

After the ban was announced, the Australian Home Heating Association launched a campaign calling on the ACT Government to abandon the change, which has now attracted more than 3800 signatures.

General manager Tim Cannon said the ban was short-sighted.

“In the report, it was acknowledged there was a disproportionate amount of smoke attributed to older models,” he said.

“I think they need to look at removing old wood heaters first – that will address the wood smoke issues.”

Mr Cannon said there was a clear difference between older wood heaters and more recent models in terms of emissions, describing them as “like day and night”.

“In the same way that buses and trucks from 20 years ago spewed out diesel exhaust fumes, the modern-day versions produce much less emissions,” he said.

“It’s the older, non-compliant wood heaters that are the big polluters, or contributors, to wood smoke.”

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Another argument against banning wood heaters was that their sales have been declining in recent years.

Mr Cannon said this showed some households were not adopting newer models, so banning the installation of new heaters wouldn’t address the wood smoke issue.

“Progressively, the sale of wood heaters in Australia has declined because there are alternative forms of heating,” he said.

“The wood smoke issue is primarily related to the older, non-compliant wood heaters.”

Mr Cannon said an alternative approach could be households using electricity to heat their homes, with a newer wood heater model functioning as a backup.

“When it comes to the impact of the proposed ban, the government has not considered the low operational cost of wood heating,” he said.

“If their only option is to heat their home with electricity, homeowners will be at risk of increased electricity prices.”

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ACT Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti has hit back, stating the continued presence of wood smoke would continue to impact people unless the government stepped in.

“I would challenge you to locate a Canberran willing to exchange clean air for woodfire smoke,” she said.

“While certain newer models of wood fire heaters may boast improved cleanliness, they are by no means completely smoke-free.”

About 3.3 per cent of Territory households have a wood heater.

But the impacts can vary depending on where you live, as local topography and weather conditions can increase the impact of woodfire smoke.

Ms Vassarotti said the ban was necessary to protect the health of Canberra residents.

“When I announced the government decision to phase out woodfire heaters as part of our electrification pathway by 2045, I was clear in saying we need to confront the reality that the smoke that woodfire heaters emit is a direct source of pollution in our homes, a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of our community, and a looming threat to our natural environment,” she said.

“The report provided by the Commissioner for Sustainability and Environment clearly outlined the detrimental impact woodfire heaters have on both our environment and the health of our citizens.

“While national lobby groups will work to protect the interests of their members, my focus is to protect the health and wellbeing of Canberrans and our local environment.”

She added that given the low number of wood heaters in Canberra homes, there would be minimal added strain to the grid when people made the switch to electricity.

“The government is committed to ensuring our grid continues to respond to the demand brought on by the electrification of our city,” Ms Vassarotti said.

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Looks like the wood burners in Canberra suburbs are a bit tetchy about being called out for smoking out their neighbourhoods. Feeling a touch guilty?

Mark, luckily, my neighbour tells me the ban is silly. They told me they can hardily smell my wood heater and it doesn’t worry them. It’s a backup; not the main heat source, so only is lit some evenings (not in the daytime) in winter. Not every night. The main heat source (and very effective) is the sun. I have an efficient double burner wood heater. My wood comes from a source of free waste wood (mostly hardwood), so no trees are cut down purposedly. I store the wood for at least two years before burning it, to dry it.

Looks like the wood burners in Canberra suburbs are a bit tetchy about being called out for smoking out their neighbourhoods. You can always live somewhere where everybody is OK with smoke. Until then – have a listen.

Fascinating, sad, and misguided.
Some facts:
1. 70% of Austailia’s electricity comes from fossil fuel; coal, oil and gas.
2. Generating electrify from heat is only 30% effient, so tou would actually get more heat per kg of coal by just burning the coal.
3. The IPCC recognizes wood as renewable energy, along with wind and solar, and sees bioenergy as a key ingredient in mitigating fossil fuel use.
4. Wood is solar energy stored through photosynthesis.
5. Wood releases its carbon whether it decomposes or is burned to replace fossil fuels.
6. Gasifyng stoves emit 1/15th the CO2 of an open fire, and very little PM2.5.
7. PM2.5 disipates quickly and only remains in the atmosphere for a few days while the CO2 released from 100 million year old coal and oil will be changing our climate indefinitely.

Please don’t ignore the science. You are making thinks worse, not better.

Wood heaters generating smoke are good for some, generating warmth and cozy ambiance, bad for others, generating choking smoke.
A ban on the sale of new wood heaters does not remove existing smokey wood heaters.
Only new wood heaters are to be banned, but these are claimed go be less smokey and more efficient than older heaters.
Smoke from old heaters will continue to be generated causing irritation and health problems for neighbours.
So the ban is unnecessary and will be ineffective in solving the problem of dispersing wood smoke.
Who gains from the ban? Sellers of electric heaters, not residents.
Who loses from the ban?
Sellers of wood heaters, not residents.
The danger is the Greens/ACT Govt may next ban wood barbeques, to supplement the ineffective wood heater ban.

Martin Keast10:48 pm 18 Oct 23

The big concern I have is that we become extremely vulnerable to power electricity price increases which we’ll see given the increased amount of renewable energy sources being used. These are also unreliable. I don’t want to be stuck in a cold house in the middle of a blackout!

This government is drunk on power, completely unaccountable and autocratic. It doesn’t give a damn about mandates. I will never give up my fire, it’s clean and burns hardwood. Time this mob was thrown out. 22 years is too long for any government.

William Newby8:18 pm 18 Oct 23

By 2045 the ACT will be completely bankrupt and people will be burning anything they can just to stay alive through winter.
But we will have two tram lines shuttling back and forth with no one on them.

Canberra needs to stop calling itself the bush capital.
That title is dead.

I’d rather a bit of woodsmoke than the carcinogenic fumes from a burning battery.
73% of our power is from brown coal.
What ingredients are in those wooden spoons and forks that replaced the plastic ones?
They all come from around the world with no testing.

Use reusable cutlery then.

CaresAboutHealth3:51 pm 18 Oct 23

Most people don’t want to breathe either carcinogenic woodsmoke or fumes from a burning battery! Fortunately, very few people ever encounter burning batteries, but many who live in the ACT encounter carcinogenic woodsmoke for many days every winter.

Carcinogens in wood and cigarette smoke are measured in BaP-equivalents. Burning 10 kg of Australian hardwood in an enclosed wood heater results in the emission of the BaP-equivalent to the smoke from over 400,000 cigarettes.

The ACT government signed contracts to purchase renewable power for the whole of Canberra, therefore none of the ACT’s power comes from brown coal. In fact, the only Victoria generates electricity from brown coal, and there are plans to phase it out.

This site has links to how carcinogens in wood and cigarette smoke are measured: https://sites.google.com/view/healthy-air/no-safe-standard

Was there a green power grid that was different to the one that runs on brown coal?

Signing a contract doesn’t magic away the reliance on base load brown coal.
If we didnt sign the contract for the green power, wouldn’t someone else have done it instead, so whats the net difference of buying it?

Can we say we don’t have crime if a pay a 3rd world country not to have crime? I’d imagine people living here would still say we have crime.

We’ve merely sponsored a green power plant. Our power isn’t green.

CaresAboutHealth9:46 pm 17 Oct 23

The cigarette companies used to say that filter cigarettes were a lot cleaner and healthier than regular ones. We no longer believe them.

For the same reasons, we shouldn’t believe the wood heating industry’s claims. Tests of new heaters installed in people’s homes show they are almost 8 times more polluting than the manufacturer’s claims, i.e. they are almost as polluting as those installed 20 years ago.

Read the evidence for yourselves: sites . google . com/view/healthy-air/no-safe-standard (remove spaces, or see follow-up comment)

“The wood smoke issue is primarily related to the older, non-compliant wood heaters.”

I’d say it’s more related to people doing the wrong thing with their wood heaters whether it’s an older one or a newer cleaner model.

Burning wood that’s got plastic or paint on it, burning damp wood and/or shutting the damper so the heater smoulders all night all should attract a hefty fine.

I’m a bit suprised the ACT Government hasn’t gotten onto this potenial source of revenue.

Caitlin Ross12:24 pm 17 Oct 23

The fact is that we SHARE THE AIR. Anyone claiming that they are not creating pollution when burning wood, that then affects other people is outright lying.
Australia is the asthma capital of the world. We need to protect the 20+% of the population (all ages), with this condition, let alone the COPD, cystic fibrosis, and other respiratory conditions that make it hard to breathe.
There are renewable non polluting options for heating. This is the way forward. We need to protect everyone by removing the smoke from our community.
Chronic health conditions are disabilities, and their actions directly discriminate against these groups.

Last time I looked wood was ‘renewable’ Caitlin Ross. And if you could look outside of your Canberra bubble there is low pollution fuel for wood heaters, as used in London. Maybe live somewhere else.

John Schwazer10:39 am 17 Oct 23

Always remember that under an anarcho-tyranny you are free to be a degenerate, but nothing else. Want to be a sexual pervert, druggo or whatever, and turn your city into a hell hole like Portland and San Fran etc.? No worries, go right ahead, but don’t you dare think of having a fire place.

That people don’t realise this is happening is because they have been tricked into thinking that degeneracy is ok and that very dire circumstances exist for why all the non-degenerate freedoms must be curtailed. But once a person gets their compass working, they’ll seek the anarcho-tyranny closing in more and more by the day.

Mark my words. Before too long, unless you’re having a binge and purge orgy in celebration of the rainbow roundabout in Braddon, you won’t be doing anything at all because of so called climate or health concerns or whatever.

Most the people on here applauding the governments ban on wood heaters due to health are probably the same who eat sh** , drink alcohol and possibly smoke lol

Caitlin Ross12:19 pm 17 Oct 23

As a severe asthmatic, I’ve never smoked a day in my life. And living with coeliac disease, I also don’t drink at all. And I have a strict diet as well. Thanks to this.
I have enough health concerns in my life without you polluting my air on to of it all. So yes, I applaud the moves. No I’m not a smoking, sh*t eating drinker.
Maybe you should look at the fact that Australia is the ASTHMA CAPITAL OF THE WORLD before making your uninformed and uneducated remarks.

David Pedersen5:22 pm 16 Oct 23

Unfortunately, Mr. Cannon and the AHHA in general are gravely mistaken. The reason why we have a wood-burning pollution problem is because people are burning wood. Full stop. All of the “improper burning” and “uncertified heaters” and “wet wood” monikers are designed to distract and protect the interests of the wood-burning community at the expense of our health and welfare – and the climate. In fact, wood burning is worse for the climate than coal and gas – see https://grist.org/climate-energy/whats-worse-than-burning-coal-burning-wood/

While I understand people’s concerns about not burning wood, the simple truth is that we must stop burning wood if we are to have clean air and a livable climate. Air pollution is already worsening due to growing bushfire seasons, so it is imperative that we ban wood burning so we can protect what little clean-air time we have left.

I want to also applaud cleanaircanberra’s comment and highly suggest that people visit and read Doctors + Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution (DSAWSP)’s website, as it is based entirely on science and debunks many of the toxic myths that make many people think burning wood is okay. Additionally, there is a wealth of scientific literature far beyond DSAWSP that is also worth reading and understanding; all of it points to the urgent need to phase out wood burning, which the ACT is doing (at least in part).

So you agree that we should go nuclear?

I have to address your comment about burning wood being worse for the climate because it’s simply not true.

Your own link of the American example says directly:

“The problem is rooted in lax regulations for an industry that’s widely mistaken to be clean”

Burning wood where replanting occurs is a sustainable practice that has no net impact on CO2 over the cycle. The article’s claim that Oh, trees don’t capture the carbon quickly as they grow is just meaningless. It’s only where deforestation occurs to supply the fuel that’s an issue. And that is easily managed through proper regulation.

The issue here is around air pollution and that’s where the focus should be.

More virtue signalling from the one party numpty Canberra Council. No conversation about clean burning (refer London) just banning things. We have a wood heater which is intrinsic to the beauty and romance of our home. We have been banned from getting gas and we are being pushed into having only electric heating which is going to be unaffordable for many people. But go on, vote for Andy Barr and the one party state. You seem to be so brainwashed it barely matters anymore.

cleanaircanberra4:10 pm 16 Oct 23

In response to Mr. Cannon, I wish to direct him to a group of international health and environmental experts, Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution. They are publicly quoted as stating, “Using recognizable tactics, the wood burning industry works to mislead the public and impede health-protective regulations.” See: https://www.dsawsp.org/secondhand-smoke/wood-burning-industry-tactics?fbclid=IwAR1GXkt7dFHCmJA67Y9YtwZeEBEvSKEmKpbXEJYrYNx6-FnPEdtmrLB68OY

Just an idea, maybe work on the sale of cigarets which I’m sure has a way bigger impact on the health of Canberra citizens then wood heaters, I’d rather smell the burning of wood then a dirty cigarette when I’m walking down the street

F k, a cigarette does not cover an entire street and backyards in a layer of smoke.

cleanaircanberra8:19 pm 17 Oct 23

It is interesting that you make the comparison between the wood heaters and tobacco. In the link provided you will see Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution are quoted as saying,
“The tobacco and fossil fuels industries are well known for manufacturing doubt about their products, but others use similar tactics too, including the wood burning industry.”

Reliability is a significant issue. A wood fire is mainly under user control with wood stockpiled before the season. Very reliable. Not so with the prime alternative source of energy – electricity. At the very moments when heating (and cooling too) is most needed, the electricity supply can fail due any number of factors, and additionally, the supplier (with modern metering and reverse cycle airconditioning connected) can remotely interrupt the supply to the device(s) on whim. Precautionary shut downs and network overload threats would be the main reasons for the supplier to intervene.

As to power costs, this can be ameliorated by installing solar. But even with a suitable battery, there are additional network safety complications involved in using the battery as a back up.

All that said, and having experienced needing two wood heaters in a poorly insulated NSW country house, I would not now opt to go back to a wood heater despite the reliability risks of the electricity supply.

“in line with the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Eh? Wood is not actually a fossil fuel. It’s part of the terrestrial carbon cycle. Or are they saying there’s a theory that wood just stays around forever, so doesn’t release CO2? Say you did try your best to stop it decaying on the forest floor. You’d build up fuel load, and as we know, someday that will burn in a wild fire. Or, lets say it doesn’t. Would the government decision makers accept wood eventually decays? What do you think happens then? No doubt I’d be called an ignorant misinformation-spreading conspiracy theorist by the very-online wing of the ruling class elite to say it directly, so I’ll just say to google ANU, look for info about how many billion tonnes CO2 are released from plant decay. Yes, “experts say”.

So not burning wood in a wood heater is doing pretty much nothing to prevent CO2 emissions.

Yes, it’s solely an air pollution issue.

Which wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad if people knew how to use their wood heaters properly and upgraded to newer, more efficient models.

And maybe, (since I’m riled by the classist nature of the Voice referendum, as exposed by the results map), it’s a class issue. The hoity-toity classes (which includes the govt policy directors) pooh-pooh wood heaters because they’re associated with vulgar people who drive older-model 4×4 utes. Who use wood heaters because their houses aren’t 7-star units on the Kingston waterfront, so are colder than many upper-class houses, and they don’t want to spend their lower wages on exorbitant electricity costs.

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