Citizen Scientist Air Quality Monitoring Project

Bruno Grunau, left, and Patrice Lee prepare to install a neighborhood PM2.5 air quality monitor at a residence Friday afternoon, December 11, 2015. Citizens for Clean Air has started a Citizen Scientist Air Quality Monitoring Project. Local citizens are forming groups to monitor their neighborhoods for PM2.5 air pollution. A major goal of the project is to inform people of more localized PM 2.5 levels to allow them to better protect their health.

A $5 million grant is coming to the Fairbanks North Star Borough for residents to swap out their wood stoves or outdoor hydronic heaters for a cleaner source of heat, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s one of the largest grants provided for the wood stove changeout program, the borough’s main effort to reduce air pollution, in which 2,708 old, dirty wood stoves have been removed so far, according to Air Quality Manager Nick Czarnecki.

Separately, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation announced that it is now easier to apply for one of two waivers allowing residents to continue using wood stoves during burn bans. The state has put the applications for burn ban waivers online, according to an announcement or “Enotice.”

In a third air quality development, the Golden Valley Electric Association has purchased 50 chimney smoke scrubbers to be installed near the EPA’s air quality monitor on Hurst Road that has become famous for picking up some of the highest concentrations of PM2.5 particulate pollution in the country.

Also, the Fairbanks North Star Borough has signed a contract with a Connecticut laboratory to research the effectiveness of chimney smoke scrubbing devices as a way to reduce hazardous particulate pollution.

 

The grant

The Targeted Airshed Grant to Fairbanks was announced by the EPA last week.

The borough has previously received grants under the program, which provides financial assistance to communities in the United States with the worst air quality. The grant was mentioned at an air quality panel discussion in September and confirmed last week, according to borough Air Quality Manager Nick Czarnecki. Almost $1 million of the $5 million will be used for marketing, education and air quality outreach, he said.

The majority of the money will pay for new sources of heat for people willing to relinquish a solid fuel burning device, such as a wood stove or outdoor hydronic heater, for something that burns cleaner.

Residents will need to sign a deed restriction on their property to receive the cash assistance.

The grant will extend the life of the wood stove changeout program in which more than $10 million dollars in borough, state and federal funding has been spent, according to Czarnecki. The new grant is expected to pay for an additional 447 solid-fuel burning devices to be swapped for those that burn oil or gas burners or for emergency generators.

“This ensures that we will be able to continue this popular program for several years into the future,” Czarnecki said.

The borough has money leftover from previous grants.

A $4 million Targeted Airshed Grant provided to the borough last year is set to expire in 2022, Czarnecki said.

About 105 applications are pending for assistance under the wood stove changeout program, he said.

Wood smoke contributes up to 80% of fine particle pollution levels measured in the borough, according to the EPA.

“The state, the borough and local leaders are making progress and air quality looks to be improving,” EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick said in a prepared statement. “There is still work to do to get to healthier air, and if we all keep working together, we’ll get there.”

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward thanked the EPA in a prepared statement.

“All borough residents would like cleaner air and this funding directly helps our citizens contribute to the solution in a cost-effective manner. The wood stove change-out program continues to be very popular and will provide real emission reductions,” he said.

Only households with a solid-fuel burning device qualify for the wood stove changeout program, according to Czarnecki. Oil burners cannot be upgraded using this grant.

“You have to have a wood stove or another solid fuel burning appliance like a coal device or a pellet stove,” Czarnecki said.

Another qualification is that residents must live in the federally-recognized nonattainment area, which includes the densest areas of Fairbanks and North Pole, including neighborhoods along Badger Road.

 

Burn ban waivers

The DEC has made applying for a burn ban waiver comparable to applying for an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, the agency told subscribers to its Enotice service last week.

For the first time, the applications are online. A myAlaska identification and password are required, the announcement stated. The DEC provided a link at bit.ly/32LuzPn.

A No Other Adequate Source of Heat or NOASH waiver is for households where burning wood, pellets or coal is the only mechanism for providing heat.

Residents must show that economic hardship necessitates the use of a solid-fuel burning device and that complying with a burn ban would result in property damage.

Applicants must also show proof of proper wood storage and that their stove meets state standards. A class in proper wood burning and documentation of the latest chimney sweep are also required.

The Stage 1 waiver allows qualified residents to continue burning during Stage 1 burn bans.

The criteria and eligibility are similar to the NOASH waiver except that economic hardship is not a factor.

 

Smoke scrubbing devices 

GVEA President Cory Borgeson said on Monday that the utility purchased about 50 electrostatic precipitators and is working with Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, to have them installed in North Pole.

Chimney smoke scrubbing devices are also the subject of borough-commissioned testing at an EPA-approved laboratory by the end of the year, according to the borough air quality manager.

Czarnecki hopes to get results in early 2020, he said.

The Borough Assembly commissioned the testing last year, allocating $458,000 toward the effort.

A few months ago, the assembly awarded a contract to ClearStak in Connecticut.

“The project is very in-depth,” Czarnecki said. It involves testing of a stove catalyst along with an ESP. Both are known as retrofit control devices.

Plans are to test them in both pellet and wood stoves.

Borgeson said the GVEA is sponsoring the electrostatic precipitators, spending about $125,000, because ratepayers are impacted by pending air quality regulations.

They face steep rate hikes if the EPA imposes stricter rules on chimney stack pollution controls. The utility is also paying for the smoke scrubbers to be professionally installed. The money for the project is coming from unclaimed “capital credits,” or unclaimed excess revenues collected in previous years, according to Borgeson. He said the purchase of the ESPs does not impact electricity rates.

Local leaders hope to get ESPs approved by the federal government to be part of the pending State Implementation Plan or SIP, a required roadmap for bringing the area into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.