Wood stove swap-out OK’d by EPA, but the money’s not here yet
All that’s missing now is the money.The Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on a program that will bring in the neighborhood of $600,000 to Butte County over the next three years to help swap out older wood stoves for newer models.
That’s the final approval that was needed, but the program isn’t likely to get started until next year because the first installment of the money hasn’t arrived.
The money is coming due to a settlement between the EPA and three Mississippi-based firms: PowerTrain Inc., Wood Sales Inc. and Tool Mart Inc.
Those firms admitted in February 2011 that they imported and sold engines that didn’t meet federal pollution standards. Rather than trying to track down and deal with all the engines, it was decided it would be more efficient to fund a program that would take the same amount of pollution out of the air that the engines put in.
The idea of a wood stove swap-out was agreed to, since the small particle pollution from wood burning was similar to the pollution the illegal engines created.
Since Butte County has a wood smoke pollution problem, and the Butte County Air Quality Management District has experience with stove swap outs, it became a contender for the money, and in November got the final OK from the EPA to run the program, according to Air Pollution Control Officer Jim Wagoner.
Wagoner told the Air Quality District board Thursday that PowerTrain and the others are pledged to deliver $200,000 to the district to get the program started. Of that, $180,000 will pay for vouchers to help people replace older, dirtier burning stoves with newer EPA-certified models that put less pollution into the air.
People swapping out a non-EPA-certified wood stove for an EPA-approved wood stove could be eligible for a $1,000 voucher toward the purchase of the new appliance. The voucher for a new pellet or natural gas stove would be $1,750.
People meeting certain income requirements would be eligible for $3,000 vouchers, but those grants would be limited to 20 percent of the total money.
But the process is on hold, waiting for the first installment of cash. Wagoner told the Air Quality District board he didn’t have “a good date” for when the money would arrive and the voucher program could get going.
Perhaps curiously, open fireplaces that actually put out the most smoke aren’t eligible for the swap-out vouchers, at least for this first year.
Wagoner has explained the EPA thinks that since open fireplaces are so inefficient at warming a house, they probably aren’t used as many hours as wood stoves. In addition, an unattended fireplace will burn out pretty quickly, while a fire can be banked in a wood stove that will burn — and smoke — several hours without intervention.
The district has had lengthy discussions with the EPA on the matter, and it has indicated it will reconsider for the next funding cycle, which starts in August 2014.
Existing fireplace inserts are available for the swap-out vouchers, however.
The remaining $20,000 coming to the district will pay for administering the program. That will go for things like a series of meetings in the next week with local stove vendors, who have to sign an agreement to be able to participate.
The amount of money coming in the next two years isn’t certain as the agreement isn’t linked to a specific dollar amount. Instead it’s based on removing 4,500 tons of particulate matter from the air over the three-year period. The amount of money will vary depending on how efficient the replacement stoves purchased by Butte County residents are.
People wishing to participate in the swap out should contact Armen Kamian at the Air Quality District at 332-9400, ext. 108. Don’t be surprised if the line is busy on your first try. The district has been taking a steady stream of calls from people wanting to sign up for the program, and that’s likely to increase to a flood.
Also recall that the program is stretched out over three years and only a third of those who will ultimately participate will be accommodated this year.
Reach Steve Schoonover at 896-7750, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ER_sschoonover.