Choked with smog


Arrowtown’s been like a Northern England coal town for 27 days this winter – and officials are getting edgy.

Cough, hack, splutter – welcome to Arrowtown.

The Wakatipu village has looked like a smoky Northern England coal mining centre this winter, with air pollution breaching official limits on 27 days so far – including every day last week.

Authorities are worried – both about smog breaches and how slow Arrowtowners are on the uptake for new-generation heating.

Most air pollution comes from domestic heating emissions, Otago Regional Council air quality scientist Deborah Mills says.

Inversion layers on still, sunny days trap the smog.

George Douglas chairs Arrowtown’s Warm Homes and Clean Air Trust.

“The pollution so far this winter is worse than previous winters.

“We’re quite concerned about the lack of action from a lot of Arrowtown households [on new heating systems].”
Open fires and burners using coal or damp wood are the major smog causes.

By 2012, when tight ORC clean-air rules take effect, more than 200 Arrowtown homes must have installed new-generation heating.

But only 39 have seen the light so far, according to Jeff Donaldson, another ORC clean-air boffin.

He’s also concerned at Arrowtown apathy.

“We’re disappointed with the uptake in [Arrowtown], considering how much uptake we’ve had in other areas.”

With big subsidies, it’s not a money problem. “We’ve had some huge uptake in parts of Dunedin where there’s no money.”

So why’s Arrowtown behind the eight-ball?

“The problem with Arrowtown people is they’ve got access to free wood,” Donaldson says – willows by the Arrow River.

“You can actually [imagine] some older retired person walking down to the riverbed with a handsaw and wheelbarrow.”

And then they burn the wood wet? “Yeah.”

But Douglas blames sheer apathy. “I think people are just putting off [upgrading] – until they’re forced into it.”
Douglas and Donaldson plug hefty Government and ORC subsidies for heating upgrades.

How much? Every case is different, they stress, but Donaldson ballparks a likely Arrowtown scenario.

Assuming insulation also has to be done when upgrading the heating system, subsidies will be about $3200 – leaving the homeowner to pay another $2500.

“But you need to say it can be better than this – a lot better,” Donaldson says.

Community services card­holders or people with certain health problems may end up paying only $500 – “and they may get $7000-$8000 worth of product in their home”.

Douglas’s community trust may also help with that $500, too.

The trust has a little kitty, he says.

“Each case would stand on its merits [but] we don’t want anyone not to enter the [clean-air] scheme because of maybe a few hundred dollars.”