Not good for health, but prevention is difficult

Utrecht wants to be a sustainable city, with clean energy and well-insulated homes. Natural gas must exit and enter the heat pump. Everything looks great, but this change also brings new problems. Because what if people didn’t want a heat pump and opted for wood pellet boilers or stoves, which emit harmful substances? The municipality is already taking measures to reduce emissions from wood burning in the city and recently announced a new support for people who have removed their old stove. But can more be done? Several council parties submitted a proposal last summer for further action against wood pellet boilers and stoves. As a result, the college looked at what could be done. What does it look like? It is not easy to block them.

Currently approximately 130,000 buildings in Utrecht are connected to natural gas, and this should decrease significantly in the coming years. The municipality has devised the most reasonable way to heat each neighborhood if natural gas is no longer possible. The solutions for the neighborhoods of Utrecht are a heat network or a heat pump.

A so-called District Implementation Plan is now being drawn up for each neighborhood, along with residents, businessmen and other stakeholders, which also includes what the new heating method should be. It is important that residents are allowed to deviate from the sustainable heating method that is built into neighborhood plans. This is possible if the heating technology they choose is completely sustainable such as a network heating or heat pump.

guiding rules

Wood pellet boilers also fall into the “completely sustainable” category. how is that possible? According to EU guidelines, wood pellets, a form of biomass, are known as a “renewable energy source”. This means that the residents of Utrecht must be allowed to make the decision to replace a natural gas central heating boiler with a wood-pellet boiler. These are boilers that heat the whole house centrally and are suitable for radiator, floor heating and tap water. So it is a different system from wood-burning stoves that are used as a fireplace in the living room during cold winter days; The so-called additional heating.

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The European Union sees the wood pellet boiler as a renewable energy resource, but boilers have drawbacks. When wood pellets are burned, harmful substances are released, such as particulate matter (ultra-fine), soot and so-called “volatile organic compounds” (VOC). In practice, these substances can lead to inconvenience and harm to the health of the local population.


Because of the emission of the material, the various Utrecht municipal councils do not feel much about the wood pellet boiler as an alternative to natural gas. Last summer, GroenLinks, ChristenUnie, and Party for the Animals submitted a proposal while discussing “Transition Vision Heat Part I.”

According to the parties, wood pellet boilers are already being used in large buildings as an alternative to natural gas and boilers can also be an attractive alternative for families in Utrecht. The parties requested the Commission with the proposal to examine whether it could be possible, for example through environmental law, to prevent pellet boilers from becoming an alternative to natural gas. The board has now investigated this, but it is not yet clear that it is very easy.

Ban possible?

First of all, the municipality believes that a wood pellet boiler is only a good alternative to natural gas heating for a small number of existing homes. Wood pellet boiler with accompanying fixtures covers up to 10 square meters per home, which is not available in most existing homes. The municipality believes that the risk is low at present because many new wood pellet boilers will be added if neighborhoods become free of natural gas. Thus, a ban on wood pellet boilers will have little impact on air quality, according to the municipality.

There are also a number of legal hurdles associated with banning pellet boilers. One of the rules that the municipality will face has been defined at the national level and is related to the area’s implementation plan, whereby the municipality determines which alternative to natural gas has been selected in the area. So residents may deviate from this if they choose a “at least sustainable” method of heating.

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The national government is now preparing the requirements that the alternative must meet to be “at least sustainable”. The municipality, in turn, can use these requirements to set the rules in the environmental plan. So the central government still makes the rules and this provides opportunities for the municipality. Utrecht would like to try to include harmful effects on the environment, such as air quality, in the evaluation criteria for sustainable alternatives.

There are also a number of European laws and regulations that the municipality has to deal with. For example, legal advice obtained by the municipality shows that a general ban on individual wood pellet boilers cannot be imposed under the heat law currently in force. European law also throws a wrench into municipal business, because this law makes a general ban on the use of wood pellet boilers difficult. In order to justify the ban on use, the municipality must demonstrate the exact impact of the ban on the city’s air quality and demonstrate that the measure is appropriate to achieve its air quality goals.

What is possible?

The municipality will have more options, as planned, if the Heat Code is replaced by Heat Code 2. If this happens and the municipality can demonstrate that the measure is proportional and does not conflict with European law, the new environmental law will apply group rules for the use of individual wood pellet boilers.

Also in new construction projects, there are opportunities for the municipality to reduce the number of wood pellet boilers. When allocating land for new construction, the municipality will consider whether the person who wants to build there intends to install a wooden boiler in the building. The municipality also wants to make agreements with the initiator to exclude wood pellet boilers. According to the municipality, there is a risk that there is a chance that such agreements will be challenged by the initiator.

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wood pellet stoves

Although the municipality is not afraid that the number of wood pellet boilers in the city will increase dramatically, many Utrecht residents will begin to consider any alternative to natural gas in the near future. A wood pellet boiler isn’t the only option board members are interested in. Residents can choose to purchase a wood pellet stove instead of a wood pellet boiler as additional heating.

According to the municipality, this is “undesirable” for air quality, which is why it has been explained to Utrecht residents in the vicinity that wood pellet stoves and boilers are “not a desirable alternative” to natural gas heating. The municipality of Utrecht has been trying for some time to limit the use of wood burning stoves, but these stoves cannot be banned under applicable environmental law either. However, specific rules can be established about the use of wood-burning stoves.


Therefore, the municipality concludes that a ban on the use of only pellet boilers is not feasible and effective at the present time. This relates to limitations set forth in European law and current heat law and the fact that a pellet boiler is a realistic alternative to natural gas heating for a few homes.

The municipality says it sees a risk that residents will buy a wood pellet stove to “warm” their homes when neighborhoods are being gas-free. The municipality is already taking a number of measures to reduce the use and emissions of existing wood pellet stoves. For example, there are pilots who have slums that are free of wood burning and people can get a subsidy if their wood stove or fireplace is removed. For now, the municipality has to make do with these kinds of measures, because bans will take some time for all kinds of reasons.

Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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