Amendments to the burning of native forest biomaterials: questions and answers

What materials can be used to generate electricity?

The POEO (General) Regulation 2009 has always permitted some by-products of native forestry and land clearing to be used for electricity generation, such as various types of materials from plantation forests, sawdust and sawmill waste, and waste arising from the processing or manufacture of wood products, for example.

Regulation amendments were made in 2013 and 2020 to allow for certain additional exemptions. These amendments make no changes to the existing arrangements.

The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2013 (2013 Amendment) changes the definition of ‘native forest biomaterial’ to allow additional materials to be used in electricity generation, specifically:

  • native vegetation produced by authorised land clearing, if cleared in accordance with a land management (native vegetation) code under Division 5 of Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013.
  • certain native forestry materials resulting from forestry operations including:
    • pulp wood logs, heads and off-cuts carried out in accordance with an Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) or a private native forestry plan,
    • trees cleared as a result of thinning carried out in accordance with an IFOA or a private native forestry plan

This means that any pulp wood logs, heads and off-cuts, and trees thinned in line with a lawful private native forestry plan or integrated forestry operations approval can be used in electricity generation.

The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2020 (2020 Amendment) allows only the three licenced premises nominated by the EPA by the 14 August 2020 Gazette notice (the Condong Cogeneration Power Plant, the Broadwater Cogeneration Power Plant and the Harwood Sugar Mill & Refinery) to source biomaterial from the following sources:

  • trees cleared in accordance with a development consent or approval, or exempt development, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979;
  • trees 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 2020 Amendment applies only to the three aforementioned licenced premises, and therefore does not change the material allowances for most facilities.

Does the Regulation allow the logging or clearing of native forests for the purpose of electricity generation?

No. The Regulation and its associated amendments were designed to ensure there is no increase in the intensity of clearing or logging to supply electricity generation. By products of logging or land clearing can be used within the limits set by the POEO (General) Regulation 2009

2013 Regulation amendment

Clearing of the biomaterial sources broadly permitted for use in electricity generation was already occurring under existing public and private native forestry operations. 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.

In addition, provisions in the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) only permit 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, to ensure that genuine waste and residues are sought for recovery. IFOAs also specify that the primary objective of all forestry operations is for sourcing high value products, such as flooring and construction timber, and operations cannot occur solely for producing biomaterial.

2020 Regulation amendment

Likewise, the 2020 Regulation amendment does not allow the nominated facilities to harvest or clear native forests for the purpose of electricity generation, and it does not permit biomaterial from timber suitable for milling or other higher value use such as erosion and sediment control or landscaping, to be used for electricity generation.

These changes have been made to enable more efficient approval processes for the beneficial use of these materials when required, for example, during emergency events.

Who regulates the burning of biomaterials for electricity?

The EPA regulates 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, including licenced and non-licenced (large and small scale) facilities.

Will the 2020 Regulation amendment increase emissions from the cogeneration plants?

The Broadwater and Condong cogeneration plants and the Harwood Sugar Mill are currently fuelled by sugar cane waste, plantation timber residue, sawmill residues and biomaterial. The Regulation enables cogeneration activities at these facilities to continue as authorised under previous exemptions granted in 2014.

The facilities will continue to be regulated through the nominated premises’ 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 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.

What record-keeping is required to ensure transparency?

All electricity generators, including licenced and non-licenced facilities are required to keep records of native forest biomaterial they receive. The record-keeping guidelines (PDF 78KB) have been designed to assist electricity generators to understand their record-keeping obligations. The EPA will monitor these record-keeping requirements across all facilities to ensure the intention of the Regulation is met.

The Forestry Corporation of NSW is also required to keep detailed records of the volumes, types and locations of the biomaterial they generate and sell, including volumes harvested across various product specifications and types of harvesting operation, by state forest.

The EPA conducts regular audits of all this information, including using satellite imagery where appropriate to ensure environmental values are not compromised.

Can I use native forest biomaterial obtained from a different state or territory for electricity-generating works in NSW?

While the 2020 Amendment does include provisions for materials obtained from authorised activities undertaken in other States or Territories in accordance with parallel legislation, this amendment only applies to the three aforementioned premises specifically nominated by the EPA by Gazettal notice, and thus does not change the material allowances for most premises.

The 2013 Amendment, which applies more broadly to any licenced or non-licenced occupier of a premises wishing to burn biomaterial to generate electricity, does not authorise the use of biomaterials from other states or territories. Only biomaterial obtained under NSW legislation may be used in electricity generating works in NSW.

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