Burning of biomaterial

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 2021, specifically clauses 125–128.

Information on the burning of biomaterial is relevant to any premises that uses biomaterial to generate electricity, including those facilities that meet or exceed the relevant thresholds specified under Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, and therefore require an environment protection licence, as well as those that do not require a licence.

Exemptions under the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021

Clauses in the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 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. This enables exempt materials to be burned for the purpose of electricity generation. These exempt materials include

  • materials from various types of plantation forests
  • sawdust or other sawmill waste
  • waste arising from certain wood processing or manufacturing activites
  • 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 (see Local Land Services).

The regulation also exempts 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.

The Regulation does not allow logs that meet the standard for sawlogs, other higher quality products, or any part of a dead tree to be used in electricity generation.

Native forestry operations on both public and private lands are also regulated by the EPA and are subject to the requirements set out in respective regulatory instruments.

An additional amendment was made in 2020 which only applies to licensed premises specifically nominated by the EPA via a Gazette notice.

The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2020 (2020 Regulation Amendment) 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
  • land lawfully cleared as part of recovery or clean-up works in a declared natural disaster area

The conditions of operation for the regulated activities of these facilities are explicitly outlined in their licences and any related resource recovery orders and exemptions.

A notice gazetted on 14 August 2020 (PDF 2.2MB) nominated three facilities for these exemptions.

The following questions and answers provide additional information on these exemptions to enable cogeneration activities to continue per previous arrangements.

Regulatory arrangements

The EPA is the appropriate regulatory authority for electricity generators who have the capacity to generate more than 200 kilowatts of electricity and require an environment protection licence, while local government is responsible for regulating small scale (non-licenced) 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 and Gazetal notice must continue to comply with stack emission limits and monitoring conditions in their environment protection licences to ensure that air quality is maintained.

Recovering energy from waste, eligible waste fuels, and higher order uses for biomaterial

In NSW, government policy encourages the recovery of energy from waste if it delivers positive outcomes for people and the environment.

The EPA supports energy recovery as a complementary residual waste management option when energy is recovered from waste that would otherwise be disposed of in landfill. Energy recovery from waste, including native forest biomaterials, is only supported in respect of genuine residual waste where no higher order use of or resource recovery outcome exists. The energy recovery must 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 (PDF 0.4MB). This document gives proponents and the public clear guidance around the emissions standards and resource recovery requirements that govern such facilities in NSW.  

Certain wastes, including some forestry biomaterials, are termed ‘eligible waste fuels’, as they are considered low-risk due to their consistency over time and the low level of contaminants associated with them. Operators must apply to the EPA to have their proposed use of eligible waste fuels assessed.

This assessment includes consideration of whether there are any available higher order resource management options for the proposed eligible waste fuel in accordance with the waste hierarchy. In the case of native forest biomaterial, this aims to ensure that forests are only harvested for valued, lasting products, that forest materials and by-products are put to their most appropriate and sustainable use, and that waste is minimised and where possible, avoided.

Waste hierarchy. Ordered by most preferable: avoid and reduce; reuse; recycle; recover energy; treat; dispose of waste

This includes avoiding unnecessary resource consumption by prioritising trees to be left standing rather than logged for low quality material, and ensuring that operations do not intentionally or unnecessarily create waste to be used as fuel.

It also means prioritising higher order uses of the by-products of forestry operations.

Information on eligible waste fuels and the assessment process is available in the Eligible waste fuels guidelines (PDF 605KB).

Record-keeping requirements

Clause 128 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 updated from time to time to reflect changes to exempted native forest bio-material sources under the Regulation.

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 128 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. 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.

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