Banning coal option to reduce pollution

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2012

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Environment Southland is looking at banning the domestic use of coal as one way to fix the region's air quality problems.

Environment Southland policy and planning manager Ken Swinney said a ban on coal was one of the options in the council's new air plan.

Under revised National Environmental Standards, Invercargill and Gore must reduce the number of breaches of acceptable levels of PM10 particle pollution to three a year by 2016 and one a year by 2020.

Invercargill has already breached six times this year, with a run of four consecutive breaches from June 15-18.

Gore also breached the standards on June 15.

Mr Swinney said the draft air plan would be put out for public consultation soon after being signed off at a joint council workshop on July 10.

"One option might be to ban the use of coal for domestic burning by a certain date - could be 2020, could be 2025," he said. "We are talking about a phase-out."

At present, no domestic coal burner on the market met the standards.

"Within that space of time [2020 till 2025] technology might end up with a coal burner that complies," he said.

Banning coal was an emotive issue and it was not certain the councils would go down that route.

The cost of replacing a burner with a heat pump or other system was high for householders despite available subsidies.

"It's $3000 for a new heat pump. Our subsidy runs at $400 and is going up to $500 next year, then you have EECA grants [but] there is still a local householder component."

A ban was complicated by the climate and culture of the area.

"The issue we have got in the lower South Island is [that] we're colder and we have an ageing population who are historically reliant on coal or lignite to keep themselves warm ... We have got to have a viable replacement or series of replacements for burners."

Other options were being considered, including a point-of-sale bylaw where someone buying a house replaced the wood or coal burner, or a voluntary targeted rate where a district council paid the remainder of the cost of a clean heating system, with the homeowner paying the council back through rates.

Neil Boniface, chairman of the Southland Warm Homes Trust, said he wanted more subsidies for homeowners and voluntary rates.

"Rather than a big rule banning all these devices it's better to do it with incentives."

If the targets were not met it could hold up development of industrial sites in Awarua, Mr Boniface said.

Mr Swinney agreed. If Southland did not meet the standards by 2016 or 2020, it was likely new industrial development in Invercargill or Gore would be affected.

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"You would have great difficulty in granting consent for industrial use within the airshed."

However, there could be ways to continue building without meeting the standards if the developers were willing to offer mitigation, he said.

"You could trade off by putting new burners into 15, 20 homes to cover your emissions."

- The Southland Times

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