Toxic heater cost blowout

EXCLUSIVEREPLACING toxic gas heaters in NSW schools could take up to a decade and the cost will balloon way past the $170 million estimated by the state government, according to heater industry experts.In another blow for Premier Kristina Keneally and her Education Minister Verity Firth, some schools will have to have their entire electricity supply upgraded, at a cost of about $150,000 each, to switch heating methods.The Sun-Herald has also learnt sections of the NSW public service believe the government’s bungled commitment to replace 55,000 heaters is a purely political decision seven months out from an election and that unflued heaters – millions of which are used in the US, Britain and New Zealand – are perfectly safe.The debacle threatens to destabilise the leadership of Ms Keneally. Both teachers and MPs from Labor’s Left faction are furious at the treatment of Ms Firth by the Premier after Ms Firth announced the replacement program without Treasurer Eric Roozendaal’s approval.For the past two decades, every unflued gas heater in NSW state schools has been made and installed by just one company, Bowin Manufacturing at Brookvale.Industry sources said the most likely alternative supplier to Bowin is the Japanese-owned Rinnai, whose energy-saver model, at between $3000 and $4000 a unit installed, will cost up to four times as much as Bowin’s purpose-built DB90 Lo-Nox model.The price for heaters alone would be $220 million – $50 million above current estimates – but Ms Firth conceded last week that some schools, particularly heritage-listed ones, could not be fitted with flued heaters and would need alternatives such as reverse-cycle airconditioning.Experts say that will mean in many cases having to upgrade electricity substations, already overworked from the energy demands school computers, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars at each school.Rinnai makes its heaters in Japan and imports fewer than 5000 into Australia each year, making a replacement program a massive undertaking.Rinnai group sales and operations manager Darren Pollard said it would take years to install 55,000 heaters.Sources at Bowin said it would take a minimum of five years and up to a decade to replace unflued heaters.Parents’ groups that had celebrated Ms Firth’s surprise backdown said the government should prioritise the replacement program.”If we go at the current rate, we will have a whole generation of kids in some areas who go through school before [the heaters] are replaced,” said Jo Keown, from the parents’ action group COUGH.Questions surround the decision to replace the heaters, with one gas industry expert saying last night: ”It’s a purely political decision; the science is crap.”NSW Health, which for years has staunchly defended the safety of unflued heaters if used with ventilation, said ”the results of the Woolcock study do not change the recommendations”.A spokesman for Ms Firth said the Education Department would not comment on the cost or time frame for replacing heaters until investigations had been completed over the next fortnight.
Nanjing Night Net