Project aims to help keep air clean in homes

The Fresno Bee - - Valley Voices - BY KEVIN HAMIL­TON AND NICK DIRR

As win­ter ap­proaches, we be­gin to spend more time in­doors, crank­ing up the heat and gath­er­ing in the kitchen to pre­pare hol­i­day meals to en­joy with fam­ily and friends.

What we of­ten for­get in this fes­tive sea­son is that, in many homes, the ap­pli­ances that make these mo­ments warm and com­fort­ing — like heaters, wa­ter heaters and stoves — run on fos­sil fu­els that pro­duce toxic pol­lu­tants like ni­tro­gen diox­ide, car­bon monox­ide and ul­tra-fine par­ti­cles, as well as formalde­hyde and ac­etalde­hyde, all of which are harm­ful to our health.

The Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board warns that cook­ing emis­sions from gas and propane stoves are as­so­ci­ated with in­creased res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease — and up to 70 per­cent of homes with these stoves ex­ceed the EPA clean air rec­om­men­da­tions. Young chil­dren and peo­ple with asthma are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble, with re­cent re­search sug­gest­ing gas stoves are re­spon­si­ble for 12 per­cent of child­hood asthma cases. That’s a strik­ing fig­ure when you con­sider that the San Joaquin Val­ley has the high­est rate of pe­di­atric asthma in the coun­try, with one in six chil­dren strug­gling to breathe.

Util­i­ties of­fer free home safety checks and tips each sea­son to help re­duce the risks that these com­mon house­hold ap­pli­ances pose, and at the Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Asthma Col­lab­o­ra­tive, we’re ded­i­cated to help­ing fam­i­lies ac­cess health­ier home and school en­vi­ron­ments. But, what if we didn’t have to worry about the health im­pacts of keep­ing our fam­i­lies warm and fed dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son?

For nine San Joaquin Val­ley com­mu­ni­ties — Al­lensworth, Cal­i­for­nia City, Can­tua Creek, Du­cor, Fairmead, Le Grand, La Vina, Seville and West Goshen — this may soon be­come a re­al­ity. On Wed­nes­day, the Pub­lic Util­ity Com­mis­sion will vote on a pro­posed pi­lot pro­gram to pro­vide health­ier heat­ing op­tions for com­mu­ni­ties cur­rently us­ing propane and wood. If the pi­lot goes ahead, more than 1,600 house­holds in the San Joaquin Val­ley will re­ceive ad­vanced en­ergy ef­fi­ciency up­grades and cut­tingedge, all-elec­tric ap­pli­ances pow­ered by clean en­ergy, cre­at­ing some of the heath­i­est homes that have ever ex­isted.

These up­grades will be pro­vided free of cost — and the tran­si­tion to al­l­elec­tric, clean en­ergy homes will save res­i­dents con­sid­er­able cash on monthly en­ergy bills, up to $150 per month and nearly $2,000 a year for some house­holds. That’s money that fam­i­lies can in­vest in other ar­eas of their life. This is im­por­tant be­cause low-in­come fam­i­lies spend a higher per­cent­age of their in­come on en­ergy bills, of­ten more than twice as high as mid­dle-wage earn­ers, and more than three times as high as high­in­come fam­i­lies. At the As­so­ci­a­tion for En­ergy Af­ford­abil­ity, where we pro­vide sim­i­lar up­grades for fam­i­lies across the state, we’ve wit­nessed first­hand how pro­grams that de­liver en­ergy sav­ings im­prove qual­ity of life.

The pi­lot will also help slash car­bon and other air pol­lu­tion that con­trib­ute to cli­mate change and poor air qual­ity. This is im­por­tant for the San Joaquin Val­ley, which is al­ready sub­jected to dan­ger­ous lev­els of out­door air pol­lu­tion. With this help from the PUC, our homes can be a place of respite from dirty air and not an­other health risk. Homes and build­ings are re­spon­si­ble for 25 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s green­house gas emis­sions, and burn­ing gas and propane in homes and build­ings con­trib­utes over half of this pol­lu­tion. Re­plac­ing old ap­pli­ances with clean, elec­tric ones will help slash meth­ane pol­lu­tion, mov­ing the state closer to meet­ing our cli­mate goals while clean­ing up lo­cal air.

We hope this pi­lot pro­gram can bring re­lief to some of the Val­ley’s hard­est hit fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially their chil­dren who suf­fer most from air pol­lu­tion. While there are steps we can take to re­duce ex­po­sure to in­door air pol­lu­tion from gas pow­ered ap­pli­ances, the best pre­ven­tion is mov­ing to health­ier, all-elec­tric homes pow­ered by clean en­ergy.

This pi­lot is a crit­i­cal part of build­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s clean en­ergy fu­ture, and we urge the PUC to ap­prove this pro­gram. By build­ing on this ex­pe­ri­ence in the broader San Joaquin Val­ley and across the state, we can cre­ate a map for health­ier, more af­ford­able com­mu­ni­ties. The best gift is peace of mind, and we look for­ward to a hol­i­day sea­son in which all Cal­i­for­ni­ans have ac­cess to healthy homes.

Kevin Hamil­ton is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Asthma Col­lab­o­ra­tive, which is ded­i­cated to re­duc­ing the bur­den of chronic res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease across the San Joaquin Val­ley. Nick Dirr is di­rec­tor of pro­grams for the As­so­ci­a­tion for En­ergy Af­ford­abil­ity, a lead­ing provider of tech­ni­cal ser­vices for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in build­ings ded­i­cated to fos­ter­ing and main­tain­ing af­ford­able and healthy hous­ing, with spe­cial fo­cus low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties.

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