Flagrant double standards

The season of burning is upon us!

As we collect firewood for the cold days ahead, we are facing not one but two challenges. While the State government allows us to go into forests and collect dead dry timber, their ritual burning program threatens to beat us to it. The object of this induced bushfire for disappointed arsonists is ‘Fuel reduction’ – that’s to say the burning of all the dead timber accumulated on the forest floor,- as well as the burning of flammable thickets which make for problems controlling a ‘wildfire’.   Considering the minimal gain to public security – ‘health’ – from this burning, as well as its significant contribution to asthma problems in nearby communities, and economic losses to wine growers from ‘smoke taint’, one wonders whether similar results of fuel reduction couldn’t be produced by encouraging people to go and get firewood with incentives.

But our public health bodies and government departments have other ideas. Far from encouraging us to burn ‘Biofuel’ to heat our homes, and recognising that it is one way to reduce dangerous CO2 emissions, these bodies have concluded that the particulates from wood heaters are an intolerable health hazard, and on that basis would be better banned or regulated out of existence.  The Age reports:

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/wood-fires-focus-of-pollution-cut-20130426-2ik44.html

The recommendation –

“Options being considered by COAG range from doing nothing and letting emissions decline as households moved to gas and electricity heaters, to introducing regulations that would require all new heaters to carry efficiency ratings and release just 1.5 grams of particulates per kilo of wood burnt.”

It is one thing to suggest people burn gas for home heating; gas is relatively clean, and using it this way makes use of most of its energy. But the suggestion that by using electricity to heat our homes ’emissions would decline’ is dangerous nonsense.  Not only is the main source of electricity in Victoria from Brown Coal, and so inherently more than twice as ’emissions intensive’ as gas, but the process of transforming it into electricity and bringing it hundreds of Kms to the consumer makes it perhaps FIVE times dirtier than gas. This is because the power station only extracts 35 – 40% of the heat energy from the Coal – the other 60 – 65% goes to heat the air in the Latrobe valley, and then a further proportion is dissipated in the transmission lines.

These days of course, many people have solar power for electricity, and may use this as an excuse to use more electricity for home heating than they otherwise would. I actually have friends with underfloor heating who have done this – previously it was simply too expensive.  This however is not only a false economy but an extraordinarily decadent  option. If you want to heat your home with solar energy you need roof windows and good insulation, or a solar water heater and hydronic system; neither will be much use when the sun isn’t shining, and this is the time that your home will need heating.

The problem with using the solar electricity in this way is that it simply means that the other things in your house which would run on it, like TVs and lighting, are powered by that dirty old coal in Gippsland; as we know it isn’t possible to run TVs or lighting on COAL directly. This means that those people who look out on Loy Yang’s smokestacks, between coughing fits and with watery eyes, will get even more of the same while we warm our toes on beautiful clean electric power.

But back to the WOOD.  Even though the government and bodies who came up with this stupid advice admit that the dangerous particulates from wood burning happen mostly because of using damp wood and badly operated stoves, they still see the change away from them to Fossil Fuel power as ‘progress’, and alarmingly as progress that is already underway. Well it’s not progress! And if they like to give this advice on public health they first need to stop burning the bush except close around settlements, and restrict it to times when a genuine slow burn will not kill everything except old trees, leading to a progressive loss of ecological diversity. They also need to think hard about using ‘dry wood’ in Hazlewood power station, where 30% of the energy from brown coal is wasted in evaporating the water in it.

So get in those wood stores, and don’t let them tell you there’s anything ‘cleaner’ than this remarkable renewable energy source.

— David Macilwain, Rayburn owner.

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