Commissioners move to encourage new wood-burning technology

Thursday 1 November 2012, 9:25PM
By Environment Canterbury


Environment Canterbury is moving to encourage the development of ultra-low emission wood burners to make them available as people start to rebuild their homes in Canterbury.

Commissioners agreed today to ask the Minister for Earthquake Recovery to use a section of the CER Act to make changes to the Natural Resources Regional Plan. The changes will create rules enabling the installation of ultra-low burners into new homes and will realign the boundaries of Christchurch and Kaiapoi clean air zones to reflect growing developments on the city’s outskirts.

Commissioner David Bedford said “We know that people want to both be able to burn wood to heat their homes and to have clean air to breathe. Environment Canterbury has been looking at ways to give them the option to do so.

“However for log burners to be allowed in new homes in Christchurch, we need to have appliances which burn more cleanly. To encourage this technology, we need to change the rules to create a market for genuinely low emission burners which will allow people to continue burning wood while meeting air quality standards.’’

While current wood burners produce excessive emissions, setting a tough standard and identifying a new market provides a strong incentive for the industry to work towards the development of this technology, he says.

“The allowable emission level set for ultra-low emission burners is the same as that for wood pellet fires which are currently the cleanest wood-burning appliance available commercially.’’

Rebuilding and new developments since the earthquake have the increased emphasis on the need for alternative heating options to be made available. This has led to the approach to the Minster to enable the plan changes.

Since 2002, Environment Canterbury has been working with the Christchurch community to clear the city’s air, making it healthier for all residents. The air quality programme has successfully reduced the number of days each year when air pollution levels (PM10) exceed the government’s health-based National Environment Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ).

A decade ago Christchurch’s air quality exceeded the standards over 50 times a year.  In the last few years prior to the earthquakes, this had decreased significantly to 15 days.

Domestic wood burners which contribute to the majority of PM10 pollution have not been permitted in new homes within clean air zones and older high-emitting burners have to be replaced by approved low-emission burners.

However, Mr Bedford says “Despite the progress made in Christchurch, it is unlikely we will achieve the air quality standards which say that by 2016 there can be only three high pollution days each year and in 2020, only one day can exceed the standard.  Estimates show that a number of currently complying wood burners may have to be removed or decommissioned, so to avoid the need for this, cleaner wood-burning technology needs to be developed.”

The change to the air plan rule to align the boundaries of Christchurch and Kaiapoi’s clean air zone 1 will apply to land rezoned by the Earthquake Minister for business or residential use and will  not permit wood burners in new houses unless they are an approved pellet fire or approved ultra-low.

This will mean that current air plan rules will extend to new subdivisions being developed which are currently outside the airshed boundary, says Mr Bedford.