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Govt Clean Air Strategy puts wood-burning stoves and biomass boilers in its sights for PM cuts

Michael Gove’s consultation looks for industry proposals for tackling rising air pollution

The government’s consultation on its Clean Air Strategy has proposed tackling domestic heating, alongside the headline issue of reducing vehicle pollution and coal-fired power generation.

Among the processes that are proposed for restriction to varying degrees are wood-burning stoves and biomass, as the government seeks to reduce particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission and aims to bring more integration to its climate change and air policies. Domestic solid fuel is identified as the major source of larger particulate matter - PM2.5 - in the UK. 38 per cent of UK primary PM emissions come from burning wood and coal in domestic open fires and solid fuel stoves.

The consultation says a tighter focus on solid fuel is necessary. It says: ”Using cleaner fuels, in a cleaner appliance which is installed by a competent person, knowing how to operate it efficiently, and ensuring that chimneys are regularly swept, will all make a big difference.” 

The government is therefore looking to ensure that ’only the cleanest stoves can be bought and installed’ and that ’only the cleanest fuels are available for sale.’ To achieve this Defra is working with industry and test houses to ensure that stoves are tested in conditions that replicate real life and is working on legislation around standards for both wood and coal, to be released in the summer. It notes that the 2022 Ecodesign regulations for stoves will set new tougher standards for appliances.

It also says that education and training is vital for trades and consumer alike. The strategy says: ”We are working with industry bodies such as HETAS and the Stove Industry Alliance on a dedicated campaign to inform retailers of Ready to Burn and Ecodesign Ready, providing free point of sale information for consumers and technical bulletins for industry and trade. This is alongside updated training and work with education providers to ensure that stove retailers and installers understand their role in educating the consumer on the benefits of buying the right stove and using an accredited installer, using the correct fuels, and ensuring regular servicing/ chimney sweeping. Together, these actions can safeguard consumers and will have a big impact on the level of emissions from domestic burning.”

But the government also says it will consult on restricting biomass boilers as a further way to cut PM emissions - Defra estimates 2 per cent of households have biomass boilers. The consultation says: ”We will minimise the air quality impacts of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, for example by tackling non-compliance and consulting on excluding biomass from the RHI if installed in urban areas which are on the gas grid. We will work across central and local government to put a plan in place. In addition, we will consult on making coal to biomass conversions ineligible for future allocation rounds of the contracts for difference scheme. Future energy, heat and industrial policies will together improve air quality and tackle climate change…As we phase out oil and coal heating, we will ensure this transition improves air quality wherever possible and cost effective to do so. In addition, the government will conduct a cross-departmental review into the role of biomass in future policy for low carbon electricity and heat, focusing on the air quality impacts. The proposed way forward will be set out in the final Clean Air Strategy.”

In his foreword to the Strategy consultation, Mr Gove said: ”We often think of air pollution as a problem caused by road transport and industrial level burning of fossil fuels. These are two of the central sources of pollution, but industry and government have worked together to remedy many of the worst culprits by incentivising clean fuels and investing in new technology. We have already secured a significant reduction in emissions since the 1970s, but now this trajectory has slowed. Now we need to tackle other sources of air pollutants that damage human health and the environment. Air pollution can be caused by intensive agricultural food production, heating our homes or even cleaning with certain solvents. We therefore need comprehensive action to safeguard our health.”

Among the headline targets set out in the document are a 30 per cent cut in PM by 2020 and 46 per cent by 2040.

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