MatSu Wood Stoves and the EPA

Life is all about choices, and at times, my fellow Alaskans choose poorly; very poorly.

In early February, the local fish wrapper ran a story about the increasing use of wood stoves in the MatSu Valley to heat their homes and businesses.  The article warned that the EPA was starting to sniff around with air quality violations for the increasing number of wood stoves being used in the Valley.

The MatSu is not densely populated so distribution of natural gas via underground pipelines gets a bit expensive, making electrical, propane or wood heating a bit more affordable.

The story drew a parallel between Fairbanks, which does have a problem with the EPA over the widespread use of wood stoves, and the MatSu which might be on the verge of traveling down the same road.

There are a couple of real world problems with this, as Fairbanks sits in what is essentially a large depression surrounded by varying elevations of higher ground.  When it gets cold, it is usually still, with a temperature inversion over the area, which locks in all the emissions until the next big wind and the air quality suffers.

The EPA got themselves involved in cleaning up the new mess with a series of restrictions on wood stove use which have been mostly ignored by local residents.  That fight continues.

In the MatSu, we don’t have an inversion problem, with significant wind off the Matanuska Glacier to the NE of the Valley.

OTOH, the MatSu has been very, very efficient, and successful in fending off new energy generation and exploration in the Valley, eliminating new efficient solutions of power generation and distribution.  This includes electrical and heating.  Any one or all of these would provide great, EPA-approved, environmentally friendly energy solutions for the MatSu.

A decade ago, a company proposed coal bed methane exploration and production in the MatSu.  Individual wells were going to be in backyards under lease.  This was summarily killed by local NIMBYs over water table pollution concerns.

Around the same time, the MEA CEO Wayne Carmony proposed a pair of small coal-fired electrical generation plants.  He was run out of town and the Board replaced, killing the proposal.

More recently, Usibelli Coal tried to expand and build a road to their Wishbone Hills coal mine.  This time around greens got the judiciary involved, which ordered a permit review which will take an unknown amount of time.

Two years ago, Governor Walker killed off the proposed Watana Hydroelectric Dam much to the delight and cheerleading of NIMBYs and greens in the Valley.

Finally, we have the ongoing jihad against the Chuitna coal mine.  Although the opposition lost their water reservation gambit, one of the leaders of the opposition is leading the anti-development Stand with Salmon ballot initiative this year.

As much as I am sympathetic with those who are forced to cut down trees to heat their homes and businesses, guys you’ve done it to yourselves, with your tooth and nail obstruction of every single attempt to more efficiently provide heat and electricity to you and your neighbors in the MatSu.

Not only have you chosen one of the least efficient and environmentally friendly ways to heat and light your homes, but you are on the verge of getting our friendly neighborhood EPA involved in your lives.

This is hardly a win – win.  But life is about choices.  And you have chosen.  Poorly.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He is a small business owner and Information Technology professional.


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