Energy from waste: frequently asked questions

Recovering energy from waste is a legitimate and necessary residual waste management option where it delivers positive outcomes for the community and the environment. The NSW Government supports energy recovery where it makes sense to do so and where it is used to manage genuine residual waste, not as an alternative to waste reduction or recycling.

In the recently released NSW Waste and Sustainable Material Strategy 2041 the NSW Government committed to adopting a more strategic approach to the role of thermal energy recovery from waste in NSW to ensure it protects human health and the environment, and supports the transition to a circular economy.

As part of the strategic approach being adopted by the NSW Government, energy from waste facilities, subject to limited exceptions, will only be permitted to operate in the four prescribed locations identified below:

  1. West Lithgow Precinct,
  2. Parkes Special Activation Precinct,
  3. Richmond Valley Regional Jobs Precinct and
  4. Southern Goulburn-Mulwaree Precinct

Energy from waste will also be permitted at facilities that use waste or waste-derived feedstock to replace less environmentally sound fuels (including coal or petroleum-based fuels) thermally treated (approved to be thermally treated) at the site. The energy produced from the waste must be used predominantly to power industrial and manufacturing processes on-site, rather than exporting that energy to the grid.

The NSW Government will assess the need for additional energy from waste capacity by 2025, and again by 2030, in line with the Waste Strategy targets. If required, additional energy from waste priority infrastructure areas will only be considered where it meets the principles set out in this Plan within the following areas:

  • former mine sites 
  • former thermal electricity generation sites 
  • Special Activation Precincts (SAPs) 
  • Regional Jobs Precincts.

While energy from waste facilities have been identified as a necessary part of the State’s residual infrastructure needs, their locations need to be strategically planned to ensure they meet the State’s waste management demands into the future and maximise the innovation, energy and waste management opportunities in NSW as it transitions to a circular economy.

As flagged in the NSW Waste and Sustainable Material Strategy 2041, the NSW Government is adopting a more strategic approach to the role and location of energy from waste. As part of the Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan, the NSW Government has identified principles to guide the location of energy from waste infrastructure to ensure such projects protect the environment and human health into the future.  

The following principles (below) will guide future energy from waste infrastructure in NSW:

  1. improve certainty to communities and industry around acceptable locations and facilities
  2. apply the precautionary principle where there is a greater risk of harm to human health due to proximity to high population areas (now and into the future), and in areas where there are regular exceedances to air quality standards from existing sources
  3. maximise efficiencies in infrastructure, waste management, innovation and energy recovery.

No. There are currently no large-scale energy from waste facilities in NSW and the changes do not apply to smaller facilities that use energy from waste for approved and operational needs as at 30 August 2021.

The changes also do not apply to facilities recovering energy from a waste or waste derived feed stock that is listed as an eligible waste fuel, such as biomass (from agriculture, forestry and sawmilling residues), recovered waste oil, landfill gas and biogas and source-separated green waste under section 3 of the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement or to activities that are excluded from the scope of the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement.

The changes will apply to any new facility that is required to be licenced under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and carries out thermal treatment of waste for energy recovery.

Initial priority areas for energy from waste have been identified, See question 2 above. Additional priority areas may be identified in the future, depending on whether additional energy from waste capacity is required in NSW.

Further analysis to assess the need for additional capacity will be undertaken by 2025 and 2030, in line with the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 targets.

If required, additional energy from waste priority infrastructure areas will be considered where it meets the principles set out in this Plan within the following areas or by the following exception:

  • former mine sites
  • former thermal electricity generation sites
  • Special Activation Precincts (SAPs)
  • Regional Jobs Precincts.

Yes, all energy from waste facilities which fall within the scope, regardless of their location, must comply with the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement including demonstrated supply of feedstock in accordance with the resource recovery criteria. The policy requires proponents to use international best practice technology and meet stringent air emission limits. All proponents must demonstrate compliance with the policy, among other things, before they are granted environmental and planning approvals.

The changes apply to all facilities seeking to carry out energy from waste that are not fully approved and operational as at 30 August 2021, including those that are currently in the planning system.

Not all facilities undertaking the thermal treatment of waste are captured by the changes. Certain activities are excluded as they are not considered to be undertaking genuine energy recovery or there are other regulatory frameworks which apply. These activities are detailed in the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement.

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