Energy from waste is an emerging technology in Australia and involves the thermal treatment of waste or waste-derived materials for the recovery of energy.
The NSW Government has established a policy and strategic framework to guide the assessment of energy from waste proposals in NSW. This framework ensures energy from waste facilities meet strict performance standards and are located in areas that best address the State’s waste management needs.
Energy from waste proposals must represent the most efficient use of the resource and demonstrate they are using international best practice techniques to ensure air quality and human health are protected.
State Environmental Planning Policy (Transport and Infrastructure) Amendment (Thermal Energy from Waste) 2022
The NSW Government has made changes to the planning system to ban the development of thermal energy from waste (EfW) facilities across Greater Sydney, with limited exceptions.
These changes align the planning framework for Greater Sydney with changes that were made to the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2022 (PoEO Regulation). The changes to the PoEO Regulation ban potential operators of EfW facilities from obtaining an environmental protection license to operate the facility except in four nominated regional areas, with some exceptions.
The State Environmental Planning Policy (Transport and Infrastructure) Amendment (Thermal Energy from Waste) 2022 bans thermal energy from waste development across Greater Sydney where it would be prohibited by the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2022, Chapter 9, Part 4. This means it must:
- be within an Activation Precinct, a Regional Jobs Precinct, a former mine premises or a former thermal electricity generation premises identified on a map or specified in a notice published in the Gazette by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA);
- be already an established and operating activity lawfully able to be, and first carried out before changes were made to the PoEO Regulation; or
- replace the use of a less environmentally sound fuel being used to power existing industrial or manufacturing processes on site
The ban applies to the area identified in the Thermal Energy from Waste Map – Greater Sydney (PDF, 569 KB) which is based on the Greater Capital City Statistical Area for Greater Sydney, developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and includes the Central Coast. The map can be viewed in more detail on the Spatial Viewer on the Planning Portal.
These changes will give certainty to industry, councils and the Greater Sydney community about where future EfW facilities will be located. There are currently several pending applications for EfW facilities in Greater Sydney at various stages of the assessment process. Introducing these changes means those applications will likely be unable to proceed.
The changes help implement the NSW Government’s Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan, which identifies four precincts where facilities should be located, with limited exceptions: the Parkes Activation precinct, the Richmond Valley Regional Jobs Precinct, the Southern Goulburn Mulwaree Precinct and the West Lithgow Precinct.
Future facilities will only be located where environmental and human health can be ensured, while maximising efficiencies for waste innovation, management and energy recovery. Where permitted, EfW facilities will be subject to a rigorous assessment process, which includes community consultation requirements and strict compliance with strict air quality standards.
As part of the changes, a new State Significant Development (SSD) category for energy-from-waste development will also be introduced. This includes criteria to determine whether EfW facilities should be SSD under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
Applicants of current proposals in Greater Sydney are being advised of the changes to the planning system. Those applicants will need to consider how the changes affect their proposal and discuss this with the department.
Assessment of energy from waste facilities in NSW
Where permissible, energy recovery from waste proposals must represent the most efficient use of the resource and demonstrate they are using international best practice techniques to ensure air quality and human health are protected.
The NSW Energy from Waste (EFW) framework provides a summary of the requirements and regulatory assessment process for proposed EFW plants in NSW.
All current energy from waste proposals in NSW can be found on our major projects website.
Our comprehensive merit-based assessment process takes into account consultation with key stakeholders, including the community, councils and state government agencies. The department works closely with the EPA and NSW Health in its assessment to ensure air quality and risk to human health are thoroughly considered.
Due to the complex nature of the emerging technology, we engage independent experts in energy from waste technology and human health risk with experience in assessing these types of proposals both in Australia and in Europe. These experts are jointly engaged with the EPA and NSW Health to assist with our assessment and provide advice on international best practice.
As part of any application to the department, applicants must address the potential impacts of all stages of the development, including any cumulative impacts of the proposed facility with other developments. Potential cumulative impacts form a key consideration in our assessment of environmental, social and amenity impacts.
Energy from Waste Policy Statement
The EPA’s updated Energy from Waste Policy Statement reflects the latest advice on air emissions standards from the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer to ensure NSW has air emission standards that meet and exceed world best practice.
The updated policy statement ensures all energy from waste facilities, wherever they operate in NSW, are subject to strict new air quality and operating standards that help protect our environment and human health.
The policy sets out a framework for the operation of new purpose-built facilities and other existing facilities and is the primary policy in NSW that governs our assessment of energy from waste proposals. The policy and the EPA’s licensing framework ensure any facility is benchmarked and assessed against international best practice.
The policy is underpinned by the key objectives of NSW’s waste legislation being:
- Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997: to ensure human health and the environment are protected
- Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001 (WARR Act): to encourage the most efficient use of resources and to ensure waste management is considered in an orderly manner (avoid, reuse, recycle and energy recovery).
NSW Government waste policy and legislation is underpinned by the waste hierarchy, which provides guidance on the order of preference for a range of waste management approaches to achieve efficient resource use.
The recovery of energy is considered a less preferable approach in the waste hierarchy to the higher order outcomes of avoid, reduce, reuse and recycle.
Energy from waste commonly asked questions
An energy from waste facility uses thermal technology to convert residual waste that would otherwise go to landfill into steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity and/or heat.
Residual waste is the waste left over after all recyclable or re-usable material has been removed following a bona-fide resource recovery process or source separation collection system. Residual waste is the waste that is sent to landfill.
A reference facility is a fully operational plant using the same technologies and treating like waste streams in another similar jurisdiction.
The reference facility requirement is a key aspect of the NSW energy from waste policy as it provides confidence in the performance of the facility and demonstrates the proposed emissions limits can be met. This ensures the protection of air quality and human health.
Energy from waste technology using residual waste as a fuel is an emerging technology in NSW.
In Western Australia, four large-scale thermal energy from waste facilities proposing to use residual waste as a fuel have been approved. To date, none have commenced operation.
The largest, the Kwinana Waste to Energy Project, will have the capacity to process up to 400,000 tonnes of residual waste each year.
In Victoria, approval has been granted for a large-scale thermal energy from waste facility with a capacity to process up to 650,000 tonnes of residual waste each year at the Australian Paper Mill site in Maryland. The proposal is a partnership between Opal Australian Paper and Veolia.
Waste to energy is a proven technology used globally to generate energy from the thermal treatment of waste. There are over 2,000 energy from waste plants operating globally, with around 80 facilities operating in the United States, over 1,000 in Japan (21 in Tokyo alone) and over 400 facilities throughout Europe. In Paris alone, there are three energy from waste plants with treatment capacities ranging from 460,000 to 700,000 tonnes of residual household waste each year.
If a proposal meets the relevant thresholds for capital investment or thermal processing capacity specified in Schedule 1 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Planning Systems) 2021.
The department undertakes a thorough merit-based assessment of the proposal in line with the requirements set out in section 4.15 of the EP&A Act. This merit-based approach ensures the department’s assessment considers the potential social, economic and environmental impacts, all relevant policies and legislation, the public interest and site suitability.
As part of this process, the department consults with key stakeholders, including the community, councils, independent expert consultants and state government agencies. In particular, the department works closely with the EPA and NSW Health in its assessment of the application to ensure the issues of air quality and human health are thoroughly considered.
Community input is a vital part of the assessment process and all submissions received will be considered by the applicant and the department.
The department’s assessment of the proposal will consider the objects of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) and the matters to be considered by a consent authority listed in Section 4.15 of the EP&A Act.
The assessment will involve consideration of:
- consistency with the EPA’s Energy from Waste Policy Statement and the NSW Government’s Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan
- the likely impacts of the proposal, including environmental impacts on the natural and built environment and the social and economic impacts in the locality
- the suitability of the site for the development
- the benefits of the proposal
- submissions from the public, special interest groups and government authorities
- advice from independent experts
- the relevant state policies, strategies and plans
- the current need for waste management infrastructure in the region
- whether the proposal is in the public interest.
The department issues Planning Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements for all energy from waste proposals. The requirements set out the key issues for assessment that must be addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SSD application. As part of the EIS, an applicant must provide an assessment of the potential impacts of all stages of the development, in accordance with the Planning Secretary’s requirements. This includes any cumulative impacts of the proposed facility with any approved (but not yet constructed) developments and any other proposed energy from waste proposals.
As a minimum, this includes an assessment of the impacts associated with air quality, human health, odour, traffic, noise, social and visual amenity. The key issues for assessment are tailored to each individual proposal.
Impacts are assessed in consultation with key government authorities, including the local council, and the department’s independent experts.
As part of the Planning Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements, the department requires applicants to complete community consultation activities before the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is lodged.
As a minimum, the applicant is required to prepare a detailed community and stakeholder participation strategy in the EIS which identifies who in the community has been consulted and a justification for their selection, other stakeholders consulted and the form(s) of the consultation, including justification for the approach.
As part of the EIS, applicants are required to demonstrate they have genuinely engaged with and listened to the community. They must also detail how they have responded to the issues raised during their consultation with the community and key stakeholders.
When an SSD application and EIS is lodged, the department will place the EIS on public exhibition for a minimum of 28 days. The community, key stakeholders and government authorities will be invited to make a submission on the proposal during the public exhibition period. As part of its assessment of the application the department will consider all issues raised in submissions.
The department requires applicants to continue their engagement with the community during the public exhibition period, and to respond to all issues raised in submissions received by the department during the exhibition.
There are two possible consent authorities for energy from waste proposals:
- Minister for Planning
- Independent Planning Commission.
The Minister has delegated his power to make decisions to senior officers of the department.
However, the Independent Planning Commission (the Commission) is the consent authority for SSD applications in the following circumstances:
- Where the council of the area has objected to the proposal, or
- Where the department has received more than 50 unique public objections, or
- Where the SSD application has been made by a person who has disclosed a reportable political donation in connection with the development application.
To find out more about applications referred to or determined by the Commission, visit the Independent Planning Commission's website.
Energy from Waste proposals in NSW
To find out more information and view Energy from Waste proposals, see the related information.
For each project we encourage you to sign-up for project alerts at the major projects website to stay informed about the latest developments.