The NSW Government’s policy on the use of native forest biomaterial for electricity generation is implemented through the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009, specifically clauses 96-98.
Information on the burning of biomaterial is relevant to any premises that burns biomaterial to generate electricity, including those electricity-generating works that meet or exceed the relevant thresholds specified under Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, thus requiring an environment protection licence, as well as those that do not require a licence.
Exemptions under the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009
Clauses in the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009 prohibit the use of native forest biomaterials in electricity generation, but exempt certain types of native vegetation or woody waste from the definition of native forest biomaterials, enabling them to be burned for the purpose of electricity generation. These include:
- materials from various types of plantation forests (as described in clause 96 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009);
- sawdust or other sawmill waste; or
- waste arising from wood processing or the manufacture of wooden products, other than waste arising from activities (such as wood chipping or the manufacture of railway sleepers) carried out at the location from which the Australian native trees are harvested.
The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-materials) Regulation 2013 was made to exempt two additional types of forest biomaterial:
- trees cleared in accordance with a land management (native vegetation) code under Division 5 of Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013 and all relevant Codes and Regulations (for further information please see Local Land Services); and
- certain native forestry materials resulting from forestry operations carried out in accordance with a Private Native Forestry Plan or with an Integrated Forestry Operations Approval.
An additional amendment was made in 2020 which only applies to licensed premises specifically nominated by the EPA via a Gazette notice. The Condong Cogeneration Power Plant, Broadwater Cogeneration Power Plant and Harwood Sugar Mill & Refinery are fueled by sugar cane waste, plantation timber residue, sawmill residues and biomaterial. The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2020 (2020 Amendment) enables cogeneration activities at these facilities to continue as authorised under previous exemptions granted in 2014. It permits these license holders to burn biomaterial from the following sources to generate electricity on those premises:
- trees cleared in accordance with a development consent or approval, or clearing that is declared to be exempt development, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979;
- trees or vegetation removed or lopped by a roads authority in accordance with the Roads Act 1993; or
- land lawfully cleared as part of recovery or clean-up works in a declared natural disaster area.
The continued use of biomaterial as a result of the Regulation is expected to deliver greater flexibility to manage fuel blending and assist operators to avoid rapid changes in fuel type that can make air pollution management more difficult.
The facilities will continue to be regulated through their existing environment protection licences, including stack emission limits, reporting and monitoring conditions. This is to ensure that air quality is maintained and the biomaterials being used for energy production comply with the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009.
The conditions of operation with respect to the regulated activities for these facilities is explicitly outlined in their licences and any related resource recovery orders and exemptions.
A notice gazetted on 14 August 2020 (PDF 2.2MB) nominated the three facilities for these exemptions.
The questions and answers provide additional information on these exemptions.
The EPA is the appropriate regulatory authority for electricity generators who have the capacity to generate more than 200 kilowatts of electricity, while local government is responsible for regulating small scale electricity generators.
The EPA, however, is responsible for monitoring compliance with all facilities’ record-keeping requirements with respect to the burning of biomaterial, including licenced and non-licenced (large and small scale) facilities.
The three premises nominated under the 2020 Regulation amendment must continue to comply with stack emission limits and monitoring conditions in their environment protection licences to ensure that air quality is maintained, and the EPA remains the appropriate regulator regarding the use and impact of bio-material through the POEO Act and related licensing provisions.
Recovering energy from waste and eligible waste fuels
In NSW, government policy encourages the recovery of energy from waste if this can deliver positive outcomes for people and the environment. Energy recovery from waste must represent the most efficient use of the resource, and be achieved with no increase in the risk of harm to human health or the environment.
Facilities seeking to recover energy by thermally treating waste, or materials derived from waste, must comply with the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement. This document gives proponents and the public clear guidance around the emissions standards and resource recovery requirements that govern any facility in NSW. See more information on energy recovery facilities.
Certain wastes, including some forestry biomaterials, are termed ‘eligible waste fuels’, as they are considered low-risk in terms of their consistency over time and because of the low level of contaminants associated with them. Operators must apply to the EPA to have their proposed use of eligible waste fuels assessed. Further information on eligible waste fuels and the assessment process is available in the Eligible waste fuels guidelines (PDF 605KB).
Clause 98 of the Regulation requires the occupier of any premises on which biomaterial of any kind (including non-native biomaterial) is burnt in any electricity-generating work to keep certain records in accordance with any guidelines established by the EPA.
The Guidelines for the Burning of Bio-material: Record-keeping Requirements for Electricity Generating Facilities (PDF 77KB) were gazetted on 14 March 2014. They are currently being updated again to reflect the changes in exempt native forest bio-materials under the 2020 Regulation amendment.
The record-keeping guidelines apply to all licenced and non-licenced electricity-generating works.
The EPA is the appropriate regulatory authority for the purposes of clause 98 of the Regulation and is responsible for ensuring that all electricity-generating works which burn biomaterial comply with the record keeping requirements.
Records must be kept for four years and supplied to an EPA Authorised Officer upon request. Provision of this information to the public is subject to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.
Forestry Corporation of NSW reporting
In addition to the Regulation requirements, the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) places controls on the sourcing and reporting of biomaterials for electricity generation. Condition 26 of the Coastal IFOA only permits the Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) to source biomaterial from an area that was subject to harvesting operations covered by the IFOA in the previous 18 months, and requires FCNSW to report annually on the following information:
Volumes of biomaterial
- Volume of high quality products sold by State Forest (sawlog, poles, piles, girders and veneer).
- Volume of lower quality solid wood products sold by State Forest (sawlogs).
- Volume of pulpwood sold by State Forest (export and domestic).
- Volume sold of other timber products by State Forest (firewood, fencing, wood-chop blocks, etc.).
- Volume sold of biomass for domestic electricity production by State Forest.
Harvest area where biomaterial is sourced
- Area harvested for regeneration purposes by State Forest.
- Area harvested using Australian Group Selection (AGS) by State Forest.
- Area harvested for select products (selecting single trees) by State Forest.
- Area harvested to promote growth on residual trees (thinning) by State Forest.
These biomaterial reports are available on FCNSW’s website.