The dramatic increase in the price of heating oil, following the imposition of a huge tax increase, has led Greek households to seek other means, such as burning wood and lignite in fireplaces and stoves. Since 2011, heating oil prices have gone up by 40%, which has lead to a more than 70% drop in demand, forcing many distribution businesses to close down. The high oil price has in some cases led public services, especially schools in N. Greece, to temporary closure in very cold days.
As a result of the increased use of fire wood, major cities are densely clouded with air pollutants, primarily particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). The air and the smell of burning wood becomes especially heavy during cold nights. Measurements, according to the limited information disclosed by the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, have consistently exceeded by two to three times the limit values set by the EU’s air quality legislation.
Firewood is not the only alternative to oil that is used by desperate households. The Public Power Corporation (PPC) has expressed serious concerns about the striking increase in demand for electricity, through the use of cheap and energy intensive electric heating appliances. In the northernmost area of Xanthi (Thrace), the PPC’s local director warned that demand for power has tripled since last winter, thus causing constant system breakdowns. Despite the continuous increases in the price of household electricity and the surge of appeals for inclusion in the Social Residential Tariff (approximately 300,000 low-income households are covered to date), electric power is a cheaper energy source for heating, than oil.
As the European Commission declared 2013 “the year of air”, Europeans express serious concerns about the quality of air, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey: most (56 %) European citizens believe that air quality has deteriorated in the last 10 years. 81 % of Italians and 70-75 % of the survey participants from Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Spain share this concern.
Sources: Bloomberg, Xanthi Press (in Greek), WWF Greece (in Greek), European Commission