San Joaquin Valley incentive program gets additional $2 million

By Katie Fletcher | November 19, 2014

The California San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District voted on a measure Nov. 13 to provide an additional $2 million in funding to its Burn Cleaner Incentive Program, which supports the replacement of uncertified residential wood burning units with either natural gas or certified wood and pellet burning units. Even with this additional funding, residents in certain counties may see themselves placed on a wait list due to the incredible popularity of the program. The funding is allocated on a population basis in the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. 

Back in September the decision was made to increase the levels offered in the voucher for the Burn Cleaner Incentive Program. “Our governing board recognized the need to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution in the valley and subsequently chose to increase funding amounts to $1,500 and $2,500 respectively for standard or low income residents,” said Heather Heinks, outreach and communication manager for the Valley Air District.

The board initially allocated $2.1 million to the program, but have gone through that in the last 8 weeks. “We’ve received an excellent response from the public,” Heinks said. “We’ve been able to provide that incentive and they’re taking advantage of the opportunity while funds last to upgrade or replace their old, polluting devices, so that they’re able to take advantage of our newer burn status system.”

The program now includes a designation for registered devices, which are generally built within the past 25 years and are less polluting to help the district achieve the PM federal standard. “We are definitely seeing reductions in PM, but residential wood burning produces up to a third of any given PM levels during the winter season,” Heinks said.

This equates to about 17 tons of PM. Heinks said without reductions in the residential burning category the federal mandate for what’s a healthy, acceptable level, cannot be achieved. This is another reason additional funding was requested.

The $2 million in additional funds, bringing the Burn Cleaner Program total allocation to $4.1 million, is being shifted from the Hybrid Truck and Bus Voucher Program. District funding was deemed no longer necessary and the allocation can be shifted without any detriment to the District’s clean truck deployment efforts, according to the proposal.

The new burn status system with the Check Before You Burn residential wood burning district rule 4901 has tighter restrictions on wood burning units. “The main change that you’ll see in the way we declare burn days this winter, there is a much tighter level of pollution that’s acceptable for anyone to burn,” Heinks said.

The program has three categories. Residents can either burn, burn if registered or nobody can burn. In the first burn category it used to allow up to 30 micrograms of PM density in the air, now the number has been tightened down to 20 micrograms per day. According to Heinks, PM in the atmosphere can’t be more than 20 or the district won’t let just anyone burn—talking specifically about older homes that have either open-hearth fireplaces or old wood stoves, any high-polluting device. “So really, this rule change is serving to limit the use of those devices, and instead that middle category—that allows those with cleaner burning EPA Phase 2 certified devices to burn—opened up a pretty wide category for residents,” Heinks said.

The average PM level in the second burn category can’t be more than 65 micrograms, which is far higher than the 30 that residents were limited to last year. Heinks said they have upwards of 1,300 residents registered already, and more come in every day, in fact 75 to 100 applications each day.

One of the positive responses the district has experienced is the partnerships with retailers that have been developed as a result of the program. “We’ve worked specifically with about 30 different retailers who have met with us consistently over the past 18 months and understand the goals that we’re trying to achieve and work hard to inform their customers of the rule; how it affects them, and certainly provide them the opportunity to get devices that are far greater for public health,” Heinks said.

Once residents decide they would like to upgrade or replace their heating system they must talk with the Valley Air District to get the voucher and funds encumbered prior to purchase. According to Heinks, within a week residents can get their voucher approved and then have about 30 days to purchase a unit from one of the partnering retailers. The district has a fairly specific auditing process for the incentive program, including before and after pictures among other things. After the unit is installed residents must register, so the Valley Air District can find the manufacturer and model of the unit. “The reason the retailer just can’t do it for them is because they agree to keep the device maintained and to not burn trash and burn clean, dry wood,” Heinks said. “We want to make sure that folks understand that part of us funding this new device means you also plan to take care of it, because those unkempt devices can also end up polluting more.”

Registration and more information on San Joaquin Valley District Rule 4901 can be found on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District website.