More than half of Canberrans support a phase-out of woodfire heaters, while only 27 per cent of the almost 2000 respondents to a recent government survey oppose a ban.
Unsurprisingly, the 11 per cent of people who owned a woodfire heater were more likely to oppose a ban (59 per cent). Of all respondents, 19 per cent were neutral on the issue.
People with woodfire heaters were more likely to live south of the lake and be elderly.
Three in 10 respondents noted being frequently impacted by smoke from a neighbour’s wood heater. This was most likely to affect people living in Tuggeranong.
Tuggeranong residents were also significantly more likely to rate air quality in their suburb as fair or poor.
Almost 40 per cent of owners said they were planning to or considering replacing or removing their wood heater from their home for environmental or financial reasons.
However, 57 per cent said they would never consider removing their wood heater because of their unique warmth, ambience and because they are cheaper to run.
Only one-third of respondents said a rebate scheme would incentivise them to replace or remove their wood heater.
Around 14 per cent of Canberrans use a woodfire heater as their main source of heating.
That survey received the fourth-largest response to a non-COVID-19 survey ever, something Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said was proof people cared “deeply” about woodfire heaters.
The ACT Government doesn’t have an official position on banning woodfire heaters yet, although it has already moved to prohibit them in some new development areas.
But Ms Vassarotti said the government wanted to hear from the community for their perspectives before adopting a policy position.
“As the ACT Government begins its journey of electrifying the city and transitioning away from the use of fossil-fuel gas by 2045, and research on the potential impacts of wood fire heating on health evolves, we will continue to implement our Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy,” she said.
“Part of this is working with the community to determine the long-term future for this heating source, acknowledging that there are already legitimate concerns around the impact wood heater smoke has on people’s health.”
The ACT Government has a Wood Heater Replacement Program which offers rebates up to $1250 for the removal and disposal of wood-burning heaters or replacement with an efficient electric system.
Some reports have emerged of the demand for woodfire heaters steadily increasing in recent years. In response to a question in the ACT Legislative Assembly last year, Ms Vassarotti said the good news was that new woodfire heaters had a much-reduced impact on the planet.
Earlier this year, the ACT Government agreed to trial a program to assist low-income households in replacing their woodfire heaters with an energy-efficient reverse-cycle split system instead.
The government’s Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy 2021-2025 highlighted the importance of people using their wood heaters correctly to reduce any negative health impacts.
Poor air quality related to woodfire heater use has been shown to have the most adverse impact in the Tuggeranong Valley due to the region’s unique topography.
The Commissioner of Sustainability and the Environment is also investigating the use of woodfire heaters in the Territory.