Alpine County wants to rid area of polluting wood stoves

A wood stove replacement program in Alpine County and two other rural California counties is the latest effort to promote clean air.

Beginning next month, Alpine County residents who have wood-burning stoves that don't conform to Environmental Protection Agency standards can get a $1,000 voucher to put in new stoves.

The program, announced by the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, is also offered in Mono and Inyo counties.

"Our goal is to reduce combustion-related emissions with cleaner-burning stoves," said Ellen Hardebeck, air pollution control officer. "We want to reduce the amount of particulate pollution by replacing old, dirty stoves."

The district was awarded a grant from the state's air quality resources board to allow for the vouchers. For those with MediCal and who qualify, $2,000 vouchers are available.

The idea is to move the rural counties away from old wood-burning stoves that don't meet 1992 EPA standards, Hardebeck said. Any stove, whether it's wood- or chip-burning, built before 1993 doesn't meet air quality emissions standards.

The new, cleaner-burning stoves are certified noncatalytic wood stoves, pellet stoves, kerosene or propane heaters and stoves built in and after 1993.

Applications are being taken through June for the replacement program. The district says it has enough money to replace 15 nonconforming wood stoves in rural Alpine County.

To qualify, wood stove users must prove that their nonconforming units are their primary sources of heat, Hardebeck said.

Applicants must prove they are permanent residents or are landlords with homes that have wood-burning stoves as the primary source of heat.

Once approved, homeowners will receive a voucher to turn in to retailers that are registered for the program through the district.

The retailer will install the stove after the resident gives them the voucher. The retailer will be reimbursed by the district, she said.

"They will take the old stoves, rendering them inoperable. That way the homeowner can't turn around and sell it to someone else."

Wood stoves in vacation rentals and homes used for recreational purposes are ineligible for the program. Packets are available by calling (760) 872-8211.


Whom can wood smoke harm the most?

-- Fetuses, infants and children

-- Asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia sufferers

-- People with other lung, heart, or circulatory system diseases

-- The elderly

-- Allergy sufferers

-- Smokers and ex-smokers

Smoke particles

The tiny particles in wood smoke pose especially critical health concerns. Cancer-causing and toxic compounds attach themselves to the tiny particles and hitchhike into the lungs. Burning wood releases more of these particles into the air in the Tahoe basin than all the motor vehicles and industry combined.

-- Source: Rudy's Energy Works fact sheet, South Lake Tahoe

Other areas phasing out wood-burning units

With more people buying and selling property in the Lake Tahoe Basin, those who have homes with wood-burning units that are more than 10 years old must replace or get rid of them before selling the property.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency ordinance, which has been on the books for about 10 years, is not unique to the basin. Similar rules can be found throughout California and Nevada.

"There are many cities that don't even allow wood-burning stoves," said Linda O'Brien, air quality supervisor for Washoe County, which has one of the tightest air quality control regulations in Nevada.

In the basin, where air quality measures are part of the 2001 Threshold Evaluation, the need to limit the amount of particulate matter in the air from wood stove smoke is of great concern, said TRPA spokeswoman Pam Drum.

"The Regional does hope to gradually phase out older, less-efficient wood-burning stoves," she said.

Hardware stores and home heating companies in the basin say business has been brisk.

"A lot of people are starting to come to us as they prepare to buy or sell their homes," said Ryan Armstrong, co-owner of Scotty's Hardware on Kingsbury Grade. "They are telling us their stoves are old and they need to replace them."

Since the Environmental Protection Agency put restrictions on wood- and chip-burning stoves in 1992, many people are finding that, while it may be a hassle to replace the stoves, it's worth it in the end.

"The stoves we are selling are all 70 percent or better in efficiency (than the pre-1993 stoves)," Armstrong said. "Whenever there's more efficiency, it makes for warmer homes."

There are a number of factors that contribute to air pollution in the basin, including wood-burning stoves.

Keith Cloutier, owner of Rudy's Energy Works in South Lake Tahoe, agrees with the regulation's purpose: to thwart the Lake Tahoe's declining clarity.

"A modern fireplace puts out 7 grams of ash and particulate matter, and it has to go somewhere," Cloutier said. "When the snow melts onto the ground, the water eventually ends up in the lake."

Cloutier estimates less than 25 percent of the homes in the basin have EPA- approved wood-burning stoves.

His company, which sells wood-burning and gas stoves, sees more people replacing stoves with natural gas fireplaces and stoves.

He said the difference is good for the air and environment and is a natural progression homeowners are making as the basin tries to address pollution.

"Natural gas is more affordable," he said. "And the wood guys know it, too, because when natural gas goes up, so does the price of wood."


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