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ORC finalist in Green Ribbon awards

ORC finalist in Green Ribbon awards

The Otago Regional Council has been named as a finalist in the public sector leadership category of the Government’s annual Green Ribbon environmental awards for its ongoing work with the community to improve air quality in the Otago region.

The Green Ribbon Awards are run by the Ministry for the Environment and recognise outstanding contributions by individuals, organisations, businesses, and communities to protecting and enhancing New Zealand's environment.

The awards are open to all individuals and organisations in New Zealand. The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Parliament on June 5, which is World Environment Day.

Announcing the finalists, Environment Minister Amy Adams said improving air quality throughout the Otago region has been a priority for ORC, which has adopted a strategy of encouraging “best practicable technology” for new and renewing discharge-to-air-consents.

The minister said by working in conjunction with industrial and commercial interests, ORC had helped achieve reduce, or bring about commitments to reduce, the volume of smoke particles being discharged into the air by several tonnes over the last six years.

“The Otago Regional Council identified a specific problem, and dealt with it in a way that got stakeholder buy-in to achieve results. The strategy has already produced results, with further improvements in air quality expected,” Ms Adams said.

Nominations for the awards were assessed by a panel of judges for significant environmental benefit, measurable and tangible results, innovation, awareness-raising and going the extra mile.

Ms Adams said: “All the finalists have shown great dedication and initiative. I am looking forward to meeting them and learning first-hand about the great work they are all doing to help New Zealand’s environment.”

There are 11 award categories recognising individuals, businesses, communities, and youth, as well as larger organisations. There were 217 nominations received for the awards, which are being held for the 23rd time.

ORC director of resource management Selva Selvarajah said the council had incentivised resource consent applicants with coal-fired boilers to invest in upgrades and install modern, efficient technologies, including filtration of pollutants and conversion to woodchips or pellet technologies. It had done this by offering ‘grace periods’ for installation with 35-year term discharge consents to businesses and organisations seeking new or renewed consents for discharges-to-air.

These types of consents would ordinarily be granted for much shorter periods and might require public notification.

Many applicants had recognised the benefits to their business of installing cost efficient cleaner burning technologies, and the long-term certainty this gave them. In many cases substantial improvements had been made, Dr Selvarajah said.

“ORC’s vision is to ensure that Otago air is safe to breathe. We promote discharge standards that are likely to meet any international standards on emission rates.”

Approximately 15 industries and schools have already reduced, or committed to reduce their PM10 or sulphur emissions by the end of this year. In most instances, emissions have fallen by as much as 85 percent compared to original discharges.

Major industries that were previously discharging 25-50kg/hr of PM10 were now discharging 3-5kg/hr. Others that had been emitting 900 milligrams per cubic metre of air concentrations were now emitting just 50 milligrams per cubic metre of air

Many of Dunedin’s high schools and colleges have also significantly reduced their emissions, in some cases by more than 90 percent, by switching fuel sources from coal to wood chips, pellets, or gas.

“This is the sort of council work that often proceeds without fanfare, but it produces very visible and positive results for the community, all the parties involved, and the environment,” Dr Selvarajah said.

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