FAIRBANKS — A ban on hydronic heaters in the borough’s Air Quality Control Zone is getting introduced Thursday at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly meeting.
If approved, it would be the first time the borough has required residents to get rid of a heating device thought to be contributing the area’s particulate pollution problem.
”I think there is a general consensus that hydronic heaters are a big source of the air pollution,” said Assemblyman Matt Cooper, a sponsor of the measure, Ordinance 2016-21.
Assemblyman Lance Roberts, a long-time critic of regulations on home heating devices, is already mounting an opposition.
“This is the biggest taking that the borough has ever done to my knowledge,” he said.
The new ordinance requires people with certain types of hydronic heaters in a defined area of the borough to remove them by Oct. 1 or be fined up to $1,000.
Under the measure, which is also sponsored by Assemblyman Van Lawrence, anyone who doesn’t remove or replace their uncertified hydronic heater — those certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can remain — could be fined $500 on the first offense and $1,000 for the second offense. A mandatory warning is required before a resident can be fined.
The ordinance targets all of the money for the wood-stove changeout program to go toward paying people to get rid of their uncertified hydronic heater.
The changeout program compensates people up to $14,000 to replace a hydronic heater.
Lawrence said an estimated 300 hydronic heaters are known to exist in the Air Quality Control Zone, which runs north from the Tanana River to the ridge above Farmers Loop. To the east, it includes Badger Road and North Pole. To the west, it stops south of Chena Ridge Road.
“If we don’t get rid of the hydronic heaters, I don’t think we are going to solve the problem, especially in North Pole,” Lawrence said.
The measure sets aside $2.7 million to help people replace the heaters with a different system.
“We are compensating these people,” Lawrence said. “We have to bite the bullet and pay a fair amount of money to make this happen.”
According to the borough’s air quality office, less than 10 of the 112 air quality complaints fielded so far this winter were verified to involve an outdoor hydronic heater. It’s not known how many involved indoor hydronic heaters.
Borough Mayor Karl Kassel said he’s still considering whether to support the measure. Kassel knows of some uncertified hydronic heaters that are burned cleanly by the owners, he said.
“Well-designed hydronic heater systems can be one of the cleanest,” Kassel said. “You can have a non-certified device that is hooked up to a large enough thermal mass to make it a very clean-burning device.”
On the other hand, hydronic heaters have been identified as a major contributor to the particulate pollution problem.
Banning uncertified hydronic heaters would “make a significant difference but it won’t get us to compliance,” the mayor said. “It’s not the magic pill that’s going to get us where we need to go.”
Roberts said the ordinance could wind up costing some residents thousands of dollars if they paid more for their heating system than the compensation being offered by the borough.
“Taking people’s stoves is a new step in this,” Roberts said. “Where is this going to stop?”
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.