Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Air - NSW overview

Wood smoke amendment Q&As

The following questions and answers provide further detail about how the proposed amendment to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2010 aims to enhance the existing wood heater framework.

Why is the Environment Protection Authority amending the regulation?

Wood smoke from domestic solid fuel appliances, such as wood heaters or open fireplaces, contributes significantly to ambient particle pollution in NSW with possibly adverse health impacts for elderly people, children and those with existing health conditions, such as asthma.

While the NSW Government recognises that wood heaters can be efficient and cost-effective heating sources if used correctly, poorly operated heaters can create localised smoke and odour nuisance. Wood smoke affects local air quality differently from area to area. This depends on local topography (for example, a valley will tend to accumulate wood smoke), weather patterns, population density, the number of wood heaters in use and how they are operated.

An economic study commissioned by the EPA in 2011 estimated that, with no change to current wood smoke controls, the cost to health of these emissions across NSW would be $8.1 billion over the next 20 years, factoring in population growth and the thousands of new residences required to meet housing demands. In Sydney alone, newly installed wood heaters are expected to emit 1629 tonnes of particulate matter (PM10) per year, a 20% growth in wood heater emissions comparing to 2008 air emissions inventory values.

What are the current wood heater controls in NSW?

Local government and the EPA currently manage wood smoke from wood heaters and open fireplaces through a mix of complementary approaches. Local government programs to reduce wood smoke can include wood heater replacement and community education programs. Councils also enforce wood smoke regulation, manage wood smoke in their local areas and handle resident complaints. Some councils are currently using development control plans and local policies to place extra controls on wood heater installations, depending on the severity of wood smoke problems in their areas.

The EPA administers the wood smoke laws in NSW and works with industry, other Australian jurisdictions and the Commonwealth to improve standards for heating appliances. Wood heaters offered for sale must meet emission standards which are enforced through periodic EPA audit programs.

The EPA also supports councils in managing wood smoke by providing them with information and advice as well as periodic training and funding for education, enforcement and wood heater replacement programs. These programs are complemented by laws enabling councils to issue smoke abatement notices or prevention notices to households where smoke emissions are serious.

How is the Clean Air Regulation 2010 being amended?

Amendment of the regulation will:

  • incorporate and mandate the updated Australian/New Zealand standards for more stringent limits for wood heater emissions and new efficiency limits
  • introduce a new schedule to give councils the flexibility to choose a level of control on wood heater installations that is appropriate for local conditions as outlined below:
Schedule 9 [new]
Part 1
No new wood heaters, except with an approval
Part 2
Except with an approval, from 1 September 2016 new wood heaters must have:
  • a minimum efficiency of 60% as tested in accordance with AS/NZS 4013
  • an emission factor of 1.5 g/kg for non-catalytic heaters and 0.8 g/kg for catalytic heaters as tested in accordance with AS/NZS 4012.
Part 3
No new open fire places, except with an approval
Not listed
General regulation requirements apply

What are the new Australian/New Zealand standards for wood heaters?

The updated Australian/New Zealand standards (published in August 2014) introduce a staged approach to setting particle emission and thermal efficiency limits for wood heaters:

  • a 55% efficiency limit and 2.5 grams of particle emission per kilogram of fuel burnt (g/kg) within 12 months of the publishing of the standards
  • a 60% efficiency limit and 1.5 g/kg for non-catalytic heaters (0.8 g/kg for catalytic heaters) within five years of publishing.

How will the amended regulation work?

Under the regulation amendment, councils can choose to be listed in the schedule and apply restrictions to wood heater installations across their entire local government area or in designated areas. Using this approach, councils have the flexibility to target locations impacted by wood smoke.

For example, within a particular local government area, the council may consider disallowing installation of wood heaters in high-density residential areas or houses located in a valley where smoke is trapped. In another part of the same council area with lower residential density or good wind dispersion, the council may permit only low-emission, high-efficiency wood heaters. In rural parts of the council area, only the general regulation requirements would apply.

Councils can inform their communities about the level of wood smoke controls in place by giving details on their websites about those areas where:

  • general regulation requirements apply
  • restrictions on the installation of certain types of heaters apply in designated areas, using map(s) and lists of precincts or by specifying types of zoning or allotment sizes.

The amendment to the Clean Air Regulation 2010 is designed to complement existing planning instruments, such as development control plans and local approval policies and regulatory powers available to local government under the Local Government Act 1993 and Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. Where a council chooses not to be listed in the schedule, the general regulation requirements will apply. A similar approach is currently used to control open burning in NSW.

This overall approach and regulatory framework is supported by the results of the economic assessment and feedback from local government and other stakeholders received by the EPA during its consultation on the discussion paper Options for local government wood smoke control in NSW in 2013.

How do councils nominate their areas on the schedule of the regulation?

During the current consultation period, councils can decide if they want to be included in the new schedule and what locations in their local government area various control measures should apply to. Where a council decides that restrictions on installation of certain types of heaters should apply in designated areas, these locations can be defined using map(s) and lists of precincts or by specifying types of zoning or allotment sizes.

To be included in the schedule of the regulation, councils need to provide to the EPA the following information in writing by Friday 15 May 2015:

  • which part(s) of the schedule the council wishes to be listed in
  • nominated local areas and which part(s) of the schedule would apply to each.

At the end of the consultation period, the draft regulation will be amended to include councils that choose the additional control in the schedule. Once the regulation is finalised, it will be published in the NSW Government Gazette and come into force on a specified date.

What if councils don’t nominate their areas by the end of the consultation period?

Nominating an area by the end of the consultation period (Friday 15 May 2015) is the easiest and quickest way for councils to introduce new wood smoke control measures because they can combine their community consultation with the EPA’s consultation process and start putting procedures in place to implement the schedule locally when the new framework commences on 1 September 2016.

Councils are still able to nominate their area at a later date if they are unable to do so during the consultation period by writing to the EPA. Placement and subsequent amendment of the schedule will be subject to the approval of the Minister for the Environment.

What if councils decide not to nominate their areas on the new schedule?

Nominating and listing local government areas on the new schedule is voluntary. If a council decides not to list their area on the new schedule, the general regulation amendment would apply.

Why does the regulation amendment not have an option to phase out old wood heaters?

The amendment to the regulation does not contain an option to phase out existing wood heaters because of limitations to the EPA’s powers under environmental legislation. Also this option is likely to be very resource-intensive and result in significant financial impacts on households. The NSW Government’s Wood Smoke Reduction Program 2013–14 has already provided extensive support to councils to assist them in managing emissions from existing wood heaters, through grants for community education, enforcement initiatives and rebates to replace older heaters.

Will the NSW Government ban wood heaters statewide?

This approach is unlikely to be supported by the wider community as wood heaters remain a cost-efficient form of heating for many people, in rural areas in particular.

Under the amendment to the regulation, some local councils may disallow the installation of new wood heaters or open fireplaces in designated areas. This decision is likely to be made by councils where wood smoke is, or has the potential to be, a problem and there is community support for this approach.

How will the government support these new wood smoke controls if they are adopted?

The EPA will facilitate the listing of local councils in the new schedule during the consultation period or at a later date. The EPA will also continue supporting local government by providing education material and advice.

When will the wood smoke controls be put into practice?

Once the EPA has received feedback from the community, industry and government stakeholders, the NSW Government will proceed with the regulation amendment. The new framework will commence on 1 September 2016.

How do I make a submission on this paper?

Submissions can be made online and by email or mail: see the Consultation on the wood smoke control framework webpage for details.

Submissions close 5 pm Friday 15 May 2015.

Page last updated: 05 March 2015