While Hawke’s Bay has to think and work through the implications of the global credit meltdown, a more potentially insidious issue has crept through the backdoor.  It came about through a well researched, quiet paper considered by the Hawke Bay Regional Council last week.

Back in 2004, the Ministry for the Environment promoted legislation which was implemented as the mandated National Environmental Standards for Air Quality in New Zealand towns and cities.  This requires no more than one night a year (Guy Fawkes) can have more than 50 micrograms per cu meter of particulate matter to be recorded.  The standards must be met by 2013.
Most residents of Hawke’s Bay are unaware that in the winter there are in Napier and particularly Hastings a significant number of nights that are substantially greater than this.
The impact of this is that if an airshed still exceeds this level after 2013 no new resource consents allowing PM10 (fine particulate matter) can be issued within that airshed.  It also means any businesses whose existing air consent comes up for renewal has to be cancelled, potentially closing them down.  Even a modern natural gas boiler discharges some PM10.

Hawke’s Bay’s almost unique problem is that the breakdown of emitters for Hastings shows, 87% domestic heating burners and only 3% is industry: and for Napier it is 2 % industry and 88 domestic.  To get residential users to replace their wood burners with heat pumps etc. is a massive ask at any time, let alone in the current economic environment.  This is a major issue brought about in part by good intentions in Wellington forcing through a change in such a short adjustment period and then lumbering the Regional Councils with the task of achieving it.

The HBRC then is proposing to deal with the residential emitters by a programme of subsided transition funding to move to lower polluting fires, insulation and the like at a cost of $11 million, paid for by existing ratepayers whether you have a fireplace or not.  This is a massive redistribution process by a regional council. But apparently no help to industry even though the Council report is clearly sensitive to its effect on industry.
At worst we need more time to bring this new standard in, and at best we need to think through whether it has a cost benefit at all. Health benefits to a point sure. But at a cost of $11 million, potential closure of businesses, and ongoing higher energy cost from the alternatives? I wonder whether the benefits actually exceed the true costs?

Healthy Air? No Thanks!

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