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Cautious welcome of Minister Ryan's New Standards for Domestic Solid Fuels

Following several years of lobbying for the regulation of wood fuels, the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) cautiously welcomes the Irish Minister for Transport, Environment, Climate, and Communication Networks' Eamon Ryan TD announcement on New Standards for Domestic Solid Fuels. The new regulations set a standard for wood moisture levels, ensuring that wood fuel is clean burning and efficient for the householder.

Following several years of lobbying for the regulation of wood fuels, the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) cautiously welcomes the Irish Minister for Transport, Environment, Climate, and Communication Networks’ Eamon Ryan T.D. announcement on New Standards for Domestic Solid Fuels. The new regulations set a standard for wood moisture levels, ensuring that wood fuel is clean burning and efficient for the householder.

Marking the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies Minister Ryan TD announced that the new standards for all domestic solid fuels will be introduced across the State within a year.

When this Government was formed, we gave a commitment to tackle air pollution caused by domestic solid fuel burning, and we remain committed to doing so. We took a major step earlier this year, with a public consultation on the development of new solid fuels regulations for Ireland. We received more than 3 500 responses across all strands of the consultation, with a wide variety of suggested regulatory approaches for solid fuels. Having considered the submissions made by the public, health experts, advocacy groups, academia and industry, a framework for legislation has been developed and drafting of the regulations is underway, Minsister Ryan said.

From 2022 the following new standards for solid fuels will apply in Ireland:

  • Coal, coal-based products, any manufactured solid fuel, or peat briquettes will be required to have a smoke emission rate of less than 10g/hour, reducing to 5g/hr by 2025
  • It is not proposed to make any changes to the smoke emission rate for biomass products (that contain coal), as this is already set at 5g/hr
  • The sulphur content permitted for all fuels will be reduced from 2 percent to 1 percent over time
  • Wood sold in single units under 2 m3 will be required to have a moisture content of 25 percent or less, moving to 20 percent within 4 years, and wet wood sold over these volumes will be required to come with instructions for the purchaser on how to dry this wood
  • In order to accommodate those with rights to harvest sod peat, no ban on its burning will be introduced. However, a regulatory regime to reduce its harm in more urbanized areas is under examination

These regulations will be finalized in the coming months and will be in place for the 2022 heating season. They are being announced now to allow those servicing the domestic solid fuel market to plan accordingly and to continue to invest in less polluting alternatives.

Public awareness campaign

In advance of the new regulations, Minister Ryan is also launching a public awareness campaign focusing on the simple steps people can take to reduce air pollution from domestic fires during the winter ahead.

The upcoming campaign will show that there are simple steps every householder can take in order to help us achieve better air quality for all. By taking these simple steps people can help to safeguard the health of those who are at particular risk of problems caused by air pollution, such as people with asthma, children and the elderly, Minister Ryan said.

The campaign will be run across national and local radio stations, in the national and regional press, and on social media from late September 2021, and will centre around three core messages or the ‘ABC’ for Cleaner Air, which can help bring about significant improvements in air quality:

  • A – Ask yourself: “Do I need to light a fire?” Use other cleaner heating sources instead if possible
  • B – Burn cleaner, more efficient, low-smoke fuels and make sure you use the right fuel for your appliance
  • C – Clean and maintain your chimneys and heating appliances at least once a year

Cautious welcome from IrBEA

Commenting on the announcement Noel Gavigan, Technical Executive at IrBEA said that the introduction of a 25 percent limit on fuel moisture content, later to be reduced to 20 percent, is a “welcome development” for the market.

Through the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme which we administer, we already have several dozen wood fuel suppliers in the Irish market that only produce fuel to the 25 percent moisture content standard. WFQA certified wood fuels at this low moisture are of great benefit to the customer in terms of efficiency, heat generation, and clean-burning, said Noel Gavigan.

IrBEA is however concerned over one aspect of the proposed public awareness campaign which states “Ask yourself: Do I need to light a fire? – Use other cleaner heating sources instead if possible.” The new proposed public awareness campaign suggests that consumers should question the use of fire to heat their homes.

This proposed element “do I need to light a fire?” sends a confusing message to the general public. Any campaign rolled out by the department should encourage people to move away from open fires and fossil fuels and use more efficient and renewable heating sources rather than questioning if they should light a fire in the first place. For many, fire is the only heating option available. The Department through any awareness campaign should encourage consumers to use Eco-design wood-fired appliances as a replacement to open-fired fossil systems, Noel Gavigan said.

IrBEA looks forward to engaging further with the Department as they develop these proposals to regulate the domestic solid fuel market and discussing the range of options available to homeowners to decarbonize their heating systems where a retrofit is prohibitive for various reasons.

The success of the proposed solid fuel regulations implementation will ultimately depend on the level of resources dedicated to its enforcement and regular monitoring of compliance. This needs to be backed up by an effective campaign that encourages consumers to make the move away from fossil fuels sources to renewable options. Wood fuels offer homeowners an opportunity to decarbonize their home heating systems very quickly. This needs to be encouraged through government supports and incentives as for many homeowners, the cost of deep-retrofitting is financially and logistically prohibitive, Seán Finan, CEO of IrBEA concluded.

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