Automatic approval for off-grid projects in Australia

Fast track off-grid projects for farmers and city householders


“Off-grid projects are about personal liberty.  It’s about my freedom to choose low household bills, to decide where and how I get my energy and water.”  Moi - Michael Mobbs


What’s the reform?

Automatic approvals for off-grid projects.

End the current 7 to 12 months council approval time which results in many farmers and city householders abandoning their off-grid dreams.


After practising as a lawyer for 20 years, and then, these last 19 years, after I became a sustainability coach and started showing and talking to over 20,000 people through tours of my off-grid house, I know from first hand conversations with thousands of people that: 

·      Every house tour someone complains about the time, cost and delay of getting councils to approve off-grid water, recycling and energy systems

·      The off-grid technology is simple, increases business for plumbers, builders, electricians

·      The big blockage to off-grid, low bills households and farm projects is red tape and ignorance in local councils and water authorities

·      It’s more expensive and time-consuming to get council approval for an off-grid house with low household bills house than a high bills, business as usual, house

·      There is systemic failure by local government to keep up to date about laws and research about water, recycled water and energy systems

·      Lawyers, dentists, doctors have mandatory continuing education rules to stay up to date to renew their annual licence to practice and can be struck off for unprofessional conduct

·      Councils can give wrong advice, not keep up-to-date, and refuse off-grid projects without risk of any disciplinary or complaint process for the higher bills and damage they cause to householders and farmers

·      In a typical, current off-grid project the local council approval requires my client to pay it $3,000 for local environmental works KNOWING the client has volunteered and will spend $2,400 to put a draingarden in the Council’s footpath to irrigate street trees by using road runoff – council failed to recognise this innovative contribution and also failed to recognise the off-grid project will keep all rainwater on the client’s property; council will also charge the client an environmental levy in her rates; this is my experience time and again with councils over the last 40 years.

·      Myths and lies are typically told by councils and water authorities to householders, builders and plumbers; examples include:



Fact or law

"You can’t drink rainwater":

(Myth told even to farmers who move & retire to town and build a house there after drinking rainwater all their life on the farm)

·      Over 2 million Australians drink rainwater every day

·      Over 48% of Adelaide households drink rainwater

·      Noone has died drinking rainwater in Australia

·      There is NO AUSTRALIAN LAW saying householders cannot drink rainwater

·      There is no law saying Council approval is needed to drink rainwater


"You can’t recycle waste water":


NSW Law is clear; if you use a recycling system accredited by NSW Health a council has NO power to refuse approval to it

"You can’t disconnect from mains grid water, sewer, electricity"

Wrong.  The 42 councils in the Sydney, Blue Mountains and Woollongong area, and Sydney Water, have NO power to stop any property owner disconnecting from mains water or sewer – a great reform by the Greiner government when it corporatized Sydney Water in 1994.

So, 21 years after that Act was made, councils and Sydney Water are still denying or ignorant of what’s LAW.


Why is reform urgent? 

·      Household energy and water bills keep rising much faster than inflation

·      Government regulators fail to reign in electricity, gas and water price rises by government monopoly businesses like Sydney Water and the energy businesses

·       Government regulators put government budgets before customers; they set higher and higher water and energy prices to keep dividends paid by government businesses to government as high as possible; those dividends have become a ”budget drug” and are roughly 8 per cent of the budget income for state governments – billions of dollars (;

·      Ordinary householders forced by red tape to pay over $40,000 in council and consulting fees for simple, small renovation or building project costing less than $200,000- we’re talking over 20% of the project cost for red tape!

·      Red tape cost and delay goes up for off grid projects where householder wish to cut their energy and water bills

·      High cost and delay of development approvals for ordinary, straightforward off-grid projects is forcing people to stay on grid for electricity and water and to a lifetime of paying high household bills

·      Current system is unaffordable for ratepayers whose rates go to pay for council staff to do repetitious red tape work (many of whom only do one or two developments in their lifetime) that is avoidable.  For example, we used to build our cities with rain tanks until the government water businesses chose a path of deception, red tape complexity and anything to prevent their customers becoming self-reliant and disconnecting from their business.


Existing fees for new housing, renovations                                                      Fees after reform

·      Council fees, charges         $15,000                                                         $Nil

·      Survey                                    $1500                                                            $1500

·      Designer fees over $20,000                                                         $3500

·      Engineering fees over        $5,000                                                           $5,000

·      Planner                                  $10,000                                                         $Nil

OVER $36,500                                             $9,000


How will it work? 

Extend existing fast track approvals system to off-grid projects.

Existing red tape allows some projects without council approval and cuts down council wage costs and householder costs by giving householders and farmers automatic approvals for a broad range of projects, big and small, such as:

·      Fences

·      Decks, pergolas, paths, privacy screens, food vans,

·      Rain tanks up to 10,000 litres



The Proposed Reform: 

NSW government makes a one page list of fast track off-grid projects which get automatic approval if they have any two or more of the following:

1.    Rain tank 10,000 litres or more

2.    No stormwater to leave the property

3.    Off-grid solar and battery system

4.    Any one or more of no mains:

a.    Electricity, or

b.    Gas (if the property is already connected), or

c.    Water

5.    Only Australian timber or recycled timber or recycled steel

6.    Plant or fence off trees or perennial pasture on farm as shown on hand drawn sketch by farmer; area depends on farm size


What is the reasoning behind this list?

-       These are the key elements of off-grid projects which are being stopped by red tape, myths, lies, costs, delay

No change to other red tape rules: 

-       Off-grid projects must still comply with local red tape about building height, bulk, etc.