About the Air Pollution Initiative Vote October 7, 2014

Wayne Hunter the Wood Cutter’s Opinion on the FNSB 2014 Home Heating Initiative (Proposition 2)

        I have spent several hours reading web pages of the EPA, the State of Alaska, and the FNSB air quality divisions.  In a nutshell, here is what I have learned.

        The process began with us monitoring our air.  We sent the numbers to the state, who determined that our PM2.5 levels were in excess of those prescribed by the EPA.  The state then recommended to the EPA that part of the FNSB be designated a non-attainment area.  The EPA accepted the recommendation and officially made the designation. http://dec.alaska.gov/air/anpms/comm/fbks1_pm.htm  

        The state now has a window of time to submit a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to the EPA specifying what they will do to fix the air (https://dec.alaska.gov/air/anpms/comm/fbks_pm2-5_proposed-regs.htm).  From what I can gather, the plan must come from the state, but the state should work with any local governments to be sure that the plan is practical and effective.  If the state does not submit a plan, the EPA can withhold federal funding from projects in the non-attainment area and implement their own plan.  The FNSB and the Alaska DEC signed a 13 page Memorandum of Agreement clarifying the responsibilities of each entity in cleaning up the air back in 2010 (http://dec.alaska.gov/air/anpms/doc-anpms/fnsb_mou_jan10.pdf).  The home heating initiative basically nullifies much of the ability of the borough to do what they agreed to do (http://co.fairbanks.ak.us/meetings/resolutions/2014/R2014-33.pdf). 

        If we must be controlled, I would prefer local control.  However, the borough can’t just deal solely with the EPA; the state has to be part of the plan.  While I don’t want the borough to unnecessarily duplicate what the state has to do, I also don’t want the borough to be completely uninvolved and decisions and plans be made by those in Juneau and Anchorage.  If we shirk our duty to take responsibility for cleaning up our own air, rest assured that the state will. 

        Right now we have educational and change-out programs in place.  It will be interesting to see what quantifiable effects they are having.  I also believe that there should be a local, responsive mechanism in place to deal with blatantly inconsiderate people who burn things not meant to be burned that generate toxic pollution. 

        The educational programs seem to focus on burning dry wood but little on how to burn.  Most wood and coal burning appliances regulate their heat output by controlling the air that is allowed into the appliance.  Some of the worst smoke is generated by wood boilers that have nowhere to store their heat. 

        One of the attractive features of a giant wood boiler is that you can fill it in the morning and forget it.  The problem arises when the house is warm and requires no more heat.  The boiler the shuts off the air to cool the fire so it doesn’t boil over.  The cool fire now smolders for most of the day until the house calls for more heat.  A practical, effective solution to this problem is to install a well-insulated water storage tank somewhere in the system and allow the boiler to burn the entire load of wood hotly and efficiently, storing the heat in the water for future use.  While I don’t have scientific studies to quantify how much hydronic heat storage would reduce the PM2.5 problem, I would bet that the impact would be greater than the “enhanced” change-out program that replaces two year old stoves at taxpayer expense.  By the way, most any indoor stove, if overfilled and choked of air, will generate excessive smoke – even with seasoned wood. 

        Here is my proposal: the borough makes interest-free loans to owners of wood boilers to install a hydronic heat storage device into their system.  The borough puts a lien on the property to guarantee the loan.  The boiler owner saves money on heating costs because he’s burning more efficiently and using less wood, and uses the savings to pay back the loan.  No taxpayer money is spent and our air is cleaner.

        Whether it is this proposal or another that is worked-out in our borough, I am willing to commit the time and work needed to reach one that is good and fair-and-square for everyone in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

        Most who know me would agree that I am the last one who wants government growth and intrusion into our lives.  However, as heating costs rise, and more people burn wood, we are going to have to do it right. This includes considering what is best for not just oneself, but one’s neighbors. It also includes having the right to resolve issues resulting from those who inconsiderately burn in a way that disrupts the health and quality of life of those living near them. A “Yes” vote on Proposition 2 results in Fairbanks North Star Borough residents having no right to address inconsiderate burners on a local level.

        I close with a word of gratitude to my customers who buy green, unseasoned firewood.  I don’t know of any of them who don’t allow the wood to season before they burn it and most that I talk to are committed to burning wood as cleanly as possible.  I encourage everyone to make their vote on this important issue an educated one. Throughout this post are links to the best of the sites I have visited to come to a decision on my vote.  Regardless of how you vote and how this vote goes, I am honored to have customers who burn, and who vote on burning issues, responsibly.





2 Comments on “About the Air Pollution Initiative Vote October 7, 2014

  1. Wayne, I appreciate and applaud your personal efforts to make positive change WRT this critical issue. I particularly like your advice to wood burners to add a heat storage system to their heating setup, since it is the most effective way for a hydronic wood heating system to reach its maximum efficiency, and helps enormously to clean up the emissions of any wood heating device. I purchased and installed an indoor boiler in 2008 and on the strong recommendation of the manufacturer, constructed a 650 gallon storage tank and heat exchanger to make the system work as it is designed to do. Our boiler produces copious smoke at startup, but normally after about 1/2 hour, for the next 6-8 hours, the normal burn cycle, the stack emissions are close to invisible.
    I also appreciate your approach to the whole issue, and your self restraint in offering your own opinions, beyond encouraging us to be a part of the solution. Your measured and considered thoughts are like a breath of fresh air, no pun intended. Thanks.

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