Santa Barbara’s Air Pollution Control District is offering residents up to $1,000 to get rid of their wood-burning fireplace. The incentive program mirrors the popular old car buyback program the agency has been operating for years.

The APCD board voted 8-3 to allocate $30,000 for a voluntary pilot program to encourage people to either replace their fireplaces or woodstoves with a natural gas insert or remove them altogether. To replace their fireplace, eligible applicants would receive a flat rate voucher of $1,000. To just remove them, they’d get $500. (Applicants would also need a building permit.)

APCD director Aeron Arlin Genet told boardmembers last month that the local program would position Santa Barbara County to be eligible for state funds as part of the greenhouse gas reduction program. “We’re thinking this great voluntary program would set a good foundation,” she said.

The program is similar to ones in San Luis Obispo and the Bay Area. Air quality agencies in those areas, however, offer bigger checks — up to $2,000 in SLO and as much as $12,000 in San Francisco.

Michael Bennett, who is a Goleta city councilmember, suggested “factual data” about the area’s black carbon emissions levels might encourage people to sign up. Arlin said such data hasn’t been refined to the county level but that neighborhood concerns were driving the program.

County Supervisor Peter Adam, who owns a large farm in Santa Maria, noted carbon was needed for healthy soil, though he didn’t “know if black carbon is the same thing.” He called the program a “solution searching for a problem.” Boardmembers Adam, Jim Richardson (mayor of Solvang), and Steve Lavagnino (5th District county supervisor) voted against the program.

Yet the remaining boardmembers expressed optimism the funds would be a good start to cutting black carbon emissions in Santa Barbara County. County Supervisor Das Williams said although he enjoyed sitting by the fire as a kid, burning wood heats a small house for just an hour or two but has a significant impact on emissions. County Supervisor Janet Wolf added, “I’m really glad we are moving forward with this.”

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