FNSB accepts $1.25 million in stove change-out grant funds from the State of Alaska

Published: Jun. 23, 2023 at 8:25 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) accepted $1.25 million in grant funds from the State of Alaska on Thursday, June 22.

In a unanimous vote, without debate, the borough assembly agreed that the borough should use the funds, which are designated for use in its stove change-out program, particularly in the conversion of heating oil systems, to those that use natural gas or propane.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward says the stove change-out program, running since 2010 and designed to improve air quality in the Alaskan Interior, has so far proved successful, with North Pole cutting its PM 2.5 levels in half.

According to Ward, “The goal, really, from an air quality perspective, is to get the community into attainment, and so with that understanding, the city of Fairbanks monitors are actually very close. I think we’re within a very few percentage points... to meet the standard, so we’re not necessarily smashing the standard in Fairbanks, but almost reaching that attainment level.”

Attainment is when the borough’s air quality meets national standards, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. “In 2009, the greater Fairbanks/North Pole area was designated in non-attainment,” said Steven Hoke, FNSB Air Quality Manager.

As a result, the borough has been working since 2010 to shift how residents heat their homes and businesses.

At issue in parts of the borough is the presence of high levels of fine particulate matter, referred to as PM 2.5. Hoke said, “It’s trapped underneath the inversion layer. We get an inversion here. We’re surrounded by hills, so we get kind of that stagnant air, where it stays.”

In the Interior, P-M 2.5 primarily comes from wood smoke, but can also be found in diesel burning and other forms of energy production.

It is seen mostly in residential areas and areas that see a lot of wood burning. “The issue with woodstoves that you look at is the variability in use, pattern, fuel and air ratios,” Hoke explained, adding, “Not every stove is going to operate the same way. Not every person is going to operate the stove the same way.”

Originally focusing on changing out woodstoves for more efficient models, the program has since expanded to include converting oil-fed stoves to natural gas, according to Hoke. “The majority of the changeouts we’ve been doing, from 50 to 60 percent, depending on the area, has been oil to gas.”

He explained wood-stove conversion is “less frequent now. I think a lot of them got changed out in the early 2010s, and then it’s kind of petered off a little bit.”

In recent years, the number of residents utilizing the program has greatly increased. Hoke said it was around “2019, 2020 when the first natural gas funding became available, and you can really see the sharp incline as far as the amount of participants.”

Meanwhile, 2023 looks to be another successful year, with 225 residents changing out their stoves so far. “Right now we’re at 70 percent, already, of what we did for the total of 2022,” Hoke said.