North Pole residents pilot electrostatic project, in hopes of burning wood while reducing air pollution

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Residents in North Pole are running a pilot project with electrostatic precipitators or ESPs, trying to get approval from the EPA to use them on their woodstoves to reduce emissions.

An electrostatic precipitator is a retrofit device that is widely used in Europe but is seen as experimental in the United States. One resident Jeanne Olson, of North Pole is an advocate for clean air and was the first one to put an ESP on her wood stove at her veterinary clinic in North Pole. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

An electrostatic precipitator is a retrofit device that is widely used in Europe but is seen as experimental in the United States. One resident Jeanne Olson, of North Pole is an advocate for clean air and was the first one to put an ESP on her wood stove at her veterinary clinic in North Pole.

“An electrostatic precipitator is just a device that creates an electrostatic field within the stack and then it charges the particles of soot that are coming up and they stick to the side of the stack, thereby drastically eliminating the amount of PM 2.5 and other particulates that are going out into the air,” said Olson.

Olson says she first heard of ESPs about three years ago, when former Borough Assembly Member Lance Roberts introduced an ordinance to include them in the code. Although that ordinance was tabled, Olsen thought it might be a technology to look into to burn cleaner. She contacted the company in Switzerland and installed one in her clinic November three winters ago. Olson has been involved in testing and advocacy involving the ESP and the possibilities of the device on the air. She says she has been involved in Citizens for Clean Air, an advocacy group for about ten years.

“I’ve always been on the position that we can burn clean, I know there’s technology out there. It’s just like when we had our vehicles and we had emission problems 20 years ago here in Fairbanks. We didn’t drive less and there certainly aren’t fewer cars, what we did is we got cleaner cars. Same thing with burning, get cleaner stoves or cleaner technology and you can do it. If you burn hot, you burn dry, and you use an ESP in a clean stove, we won’t have a problem,” said Olson.

Residents have been involved in starting a pilot project to get ESPs into resident’s homes in North Pole and when Representative Tammie Wilson of North Pole found out about the project, she started helping the community members who were working on it. “They were having a hard time trying to get the word out, and get people signed up. I basically sent out a letter, started doing some door to door knocking and explaining exactly what it did because there’s really no incentive for the people to do it except for the cleaner air, it won’t save you wood or any of that type of portion of it,” said Wilson.

Wilson says they received a grant of $125,000 from GVEA to put ESPs in resident’s homes. “The government is not involved in this whatsoever, but to me is a way that we’re going to be able to put these ESPs in that will take out 65-85% of the PM 2.5 out of your chimney,” said Wilson.

The goal, Wilson says, is to put the first 40 ESPs in homes within one mile of the monitor on Hurst Road and Mission Road. “There’s really no way to measure each individual stack so we’re hoping the monitor will reflect how much particulates have been removed from the air,” said Wilson.

Close to 40 homes have already signed up and they are hoping to put in another 40 next year.

Wilson says the real reason for this pilot project is to avoid the area going into stage 2 over the winter where residents are not supposed to burn due to bad air quality. Wilson says there were only 20 days last winter where we were not in stage 1 or 2.

“DEC completely supports all the local efforts to look at retrofit technologies, one type is an ESP, which can help reduce particulate matter. We’re trying to be very supportive of that. The difficulties are that technology while proven in Europe and on industrial sources has not shown how viable it is in this area. So that’s why having residents go out and do this is great, we’re going to find out how well it works,” said Cindy Heil, program manager for the division of air quality with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Wilson says the air quality effort wouldn’t be where it is without the effort from residents. “Before people weren’t putting wood up early and now you can go and see wood sheds, you can see people cutting wood now for next year, not for this year, change outs have been pretty extensive in this area. So we’re very close by just doing exactly what we’ve been doing, but this is the extra shot we need. A lot of people can’t afford new stoves so this is a lot cheaper, and it takes out more particulates than even a new stove will,” said Wilson.

Wilson says one hope of this pilot project is to reach attainment before the very stringent measures come into effect a couple years from now.

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