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Assembly OKs reworked wood stove program

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Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012 12:09 am | Updated: 11:55 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Editor's note: This article has been expanded to clarify and correct the original version.

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a revamped version of its popular wood stove replacement and removal programs during its Thursday night meeting to comply with the recently passed Proposition 3.

The changes maintain the wood stove replacement program, adding incentives for homeowners to replace old stoves with extra-clean wood stoves. However, the separate removal program now will pay to take out only hydronic heaters.

The new replacement program allows homeowners to replace old wood stoves with a new EPA- or borough-approved stove. The borough will pay up to $2,500 or 75 percent of the cost to purchase or install the stove, whichever is less.That goes up to $3,500 if the replacement stove is extra clean, emitting less than 2.5 micrograms of small particulate air pollution per hour. The borough also will pay $2,500 to replace a hydronic heater with an EPA- or borough-approved stove or $3,000 for a super-clean stove.

For the removal program, the borough now puts its effort solely into hydronic boilers. The borough now offers a $2,000 cash payment to remove a hydronic heater. It used to offer cash to remove indoor stoves, but without guidelines on what they are replaced with, borough officials worry that people could easily go back to wood burning.

The program also allows sellers of wood stoves to bill the borough directly, cutting out the need for homeowners to shoulder the initial out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, the program will be open to the entire borough, not just the area of the borough that’s in nonattainment of the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standards.

Ordinance co-sponsor Asssemblywoman Kathryn Dodge said the reworked program will continue to clean the air while avoiding potential abuses to the system.

“I think most of us were surprised by the unanticipated impact of Prop 3 on the wood stove program,” she said. “But we concluded that there was some way to keep some level to keep it.”

The changes were made to adapt the program to the recently passed Proposition 3, which bars the borough from regulating home heating devices in any form. The program previously had required homeowners to agree not to install another wood stove for a number of years after entering the program.

Without those requirements, Borough Transportation Director Glenn Miller said it’s possible the program could be open to fraud.

“There’s still concerns about operating the program without any type of legal framework that previously existed that prevented reinstalling or installing non-certified stoves due to the language in Prop. 3,” he said.

That’s why the borough will no longer pay homeowners to remove their indoor wood stove with the assumption that they’ll switch to oil. People could easily replace it with a $100 barrel stove and pocket a few thousand dollars.

Dodge said she believed the reworked program will handle that issue.

“I think most of our constituents are trustworthy, and we’ve crafted it in such a way to minimize fraud and maximize its benefit,” she said.

The program is funded through two state grants. The borough has about $1.2 million remaining from the initial funding grant and an additional $2.5 million general air quality grant.

Assemblyman Lance Roberts moved an amendment to open the program’s eligibility to the entire Fairbanks North Star Borough, instead of the EPA’s designated nonattainment area.

Roberts argued the nonattainment area is only a rough approximation of the borough’s most problematic areas and additional benefits might be seen if everyone is eligible for the program.

The program still allows the borough to prioritize its change-outs depending on the level of air pollution in a particular area. The change was approved unanimously.

The ordinance was adopted on a 8-1 vote. The lone dissenting vote came from Assemblywoman Natalie Howard.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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