The Post-CPRS World – Or, What’s going on with Renewable Energy Now?

And now for something completely different.

I am delighted to be hosting my first guest post, by Keith Weeks (a pseudonym), a mechanical engineer with 5 years experience in renewable energy projects and dealing with Government. It arose from a conversation we had where I admitted I was unclear about the many recent changes in government policy around renewables. S/he volunteered to write something up for all our benefit, so here it is:

It seems to me renewables are in the news less of late. Most likely because the brinksmanship from either side has diminished now that the incompetent Rudd Government decided to shelve that dog of a policy until 2013.

Every now and then though, an article trickles in, discussing some arcane attribute of policy or some minor breakthrough on a small project. Here’s a good example from The Age.

It’s worth a read, if for no other reason than to see how badly the media handle technical topics.

For starters, there’s the old furphy that these minutiae of policy wrangling are bringing in the bulldozers and causing solar panel manufacturers to open and close. What is closer to the truth is that any company that has a hope of playing seriously in the renewables sector has all their potential projects mapped out, probably to Design Phase. Further, they know the economic settings that are required to make them work: costs of electricity, value of RECs (renewable energy certificates), subsidies on infrastructure. But coupled with that is the level of certainty that exists in any one of those variables.

At the moment, that certainty is very, very low.

In lieu of a proper Emissions Trading Scheme, the Renewable Energy Targets (there’s been some name changes recently. Most people know it as the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target) is the best policy in place for doing something about stationary electricity generation emissions. As distinct from transport emissions.

The RET sets a benchmark for energy retailers on the proportion of their electricity sold each year. It’s a straight line from about 10% in 2010, to 20% by 2020. This guarantees that 20% of all electricity sold and generated in Australia will come from renewable sources. This effectively means a cross subsidy to industry (by forcing retailers to buy green power) of about $20 billion over the life of the program.

This does not, however, guarantee in any way that our emissions will decrease. As an extreme example, if renewable penetration goes up to 20%, and energy use goes up by 20%, we have zero emissions reduction.

So as a means of supporting industry the RET is probably effective, but in some very specific ways.

Coming back to the certainty aspect, the details of the RET have been fiddled frequently of late. In June last year, the Rudd Government pulled the pin on their $8k subsidy of domestic solar (good idea) and replaced it with an exaggerated REC value for domestic solar instead.

There are good and bad aspects of this. The old $8k subsidy was pretty lazy and coarse. Everyone, everywhere, got the same money to put solar panels on their roof. An installation in Innamincka (the desert) got the same subsidy as someone in southern Tassie. Further, this type of subsidy is regularly shown to be the most expensive way to fund renewables available. There are no economies of scale, and none of the engineering benefits of making bigger parts; big inverters and transformers are more efficient than small ones. But, there are some difficult to quantify benefits of getting panels on roofs; mostly associated with the education aspect, making environmental issues more obvious and the ability to focus home owners’ minds on energy efficiency. Gross Feed In Tarrifs negate a lot of this benefit, but that’s an economics rant for another day.

The new scheme gives residential generators five times as many Renewable Energy Certificates as they are truly entitled to (NB I’ll do a separate post on the mechanics of RECs if anyone wants it). There is a nub of a good idea in here, in that this encourages home owners in good generating areas slightly more than people in bad generating areas. This adds a little efficiency to the Government spending.

However, in this case, it meant the market was flooded with certificates and the value crashed pretty significantly. Lots of people jumped up and down complaining about this and, probably correctly, the Government has intervened, passing new legislation that separates out the domestic generated credits. What this means is that now the actual amount of renewable energy generation in 2020 will be 20%, plus whatever domestic generation comes on line between now and then.

The myth comes from the influence of RECs on whether a project gets the red light or the green light. Because there is uncertainty in the REC value, making an investment decision purely on this basis would be very foolish. It comes back to the certainty argument.

This has a few flow on effects on the renewables market in general. Firstly it means that only projects with very high economic certainty will get a run. At the moment though, the only technology that can claim economic certainty is wind. This is due in part to the massive research and roll-out effort that has been occurring in Europe for about the last 15 years.

The question then becomes, how can Government encourage investment certainty?

By changing the economy.

I haven’t met anyone in the renewables field yet who doesn’t think we need a price on carbon. Pricing carbon (either through a trading scheme or a straight tax on carbon, I’m agnostic as to which is better) provides the certainty to encourage long term investment in renewables.

Make no mistake; it’s a big change to introduce to an economy. But I’ve known for 15 years that the change was coming, so any big company who didn’t build this risk into their future estimates deserves to suffer.

Legislation provides the trickle down certainty that is required for innovation. Certainty encourages investment by big players. Money will flow into universities and research institutions. Investment arms of well resourced engineering companies will swing into action and start crunching numbers, finding the most effective, but poorly demonstrated technologies. More cash will flow in from green venture capitalists, further accelerating the development.

But underpinning it all, is certainty.

Coming back to the article then; the changes to the RET were necessary, but were also fixing something that was broken by Labor. But are the changes going to make any significant difference to the renewable energy sector? Very unlikely, for all the reasons listed above.

Remember this though. If everyone voluntarily bought Greenpower, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

Tammi here again: just thought this was a perfect opportunity to throw in a shameless plug for my dear husband Stuart’s solar hot water business – he’s focused on the DIY market, and he’s affordable. So if you’re in the market for solar hot water, look no further than Solarvox. 😉

Simple lemony, garlicky, basil-y hollandaise

You can’t beat a hollandaise soaked stack of goodness on a slow weekend morning. My lovely fellow cook Shel introduced us to the wonders of homemade hollandaise on a decadent flyaway weekend in Merimbula back in 1997 and we haven’t looked back. I’ve Jonai’d the original recipe as we really like to give it a lift with the basil and garlic.

I’m sure Larousse would not be happy with me, as this version requires no reducing, but I’m willing to bet that you, dear readers, will not be disappointed. The lovely Zoe (of Progressive Dinner Party fame) and her family were instant converts to homemade hollandaise when we enjoyed this on our summer holiday, and her son apparently dubbed it ‘Tammandaise’, a name we now use as well. 🙂

Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks

splash of white wine vinegar

juice of 1 lemon

1 clove garlic

handful basil

salt & pepper to taste

200g butter


Put all ingredients except butter into a tall cup and hand blend (or you can put them in a blender). Heat butter on stovetop or in microwave until just boiling. Pour very slowly into cup with other ingredients, blending constantly. Pour over stacks of goodness, add freshly ground black pepper, and enjoy!

Some options for the stacks on which this heaven will be poured:

Eggs from your ladies in the back garden (poached in slow boiling water with 10% vinegar)

Free-range bacon, for those who like Benedict

Spinach leaves for the Florentine-inclined, but nice with Benedict too

Mushrooms (sliced and fried up, a nice addition or to substitute for the eggs so it’s not so rich)

Roast tomatoes


Good quality (homemade?!) sourdough bread, toasted

Love on the plate

I am a creature of food and geography

I ran away from America
trading politics for a new palate
ate mushies on toast in the chill midsummer air
under the shadow of Big Ben.

Then, watching football at the hostel
my eyes strayed to your large, flop-topped form
as you swayed over a pot of top ramen,
and later wrapped me in your Dryzabone in the rain
before Pavarotti in Hyde Park.

In Paris, it was
tin after tin of red kidney beans
splashes of French dressing
our lives forever in
shared containers littered with utensils sharp and dull.

You followed me back to college,
San Diego’s meals were punctuated with your obsessions
one week, carrots, the next, raisins,
no matter how sweet or salty the dish,
we ate your fetishes.

Australia called you home,
so we endured years of frugal living
and expensive flights,
carting Ranch dressing and Vegemite,
until Tasmanian smoked salmon graced our wedding feast.

A year in an Oregon cabin feverish with love
we cranked the handle of our pasta machine
while cabernet flowed down throats
wide with innocence and naivety,
three tenors forced our arms aloft
and our breasts apace.

Returning to Oz via China,
we slurped over-the-bridge noodles in Kunming
lidded with chili paste, matching heat in our
loins and our bowels,
we stared wide-eyed at rows of suspended
roast dogs, and quickly learned
cài, cèsuǒ, and xièxie.

Having failed to share canine in Guangzhou,
we thought we’d try grasshoppers in Oaxaca,
deep fried, coated in chili,
only to watch them sweat in the plastic, uneaten.
We souvenired 7 kilos of Mexican chocolate instead.

Surrounded by exotic, erotic sculptures
in relief on high temples
there in small, significant
Khajuraho we ate alu palak with naan,
sweet curd in earthen bowls,
we discarded to shatter back to their source.

From the earth, Oscar grows
like a ginger flower inside me,
gifting me his palate, I gave up our favourites,
one after another, spinach, garlic, basil and cumin
a vegetarian could eat no vegetables.

Antigone’s term in my womb was more
about feast than famine
as I gobbled up sushi
and tacos, burritos and salsa,
we jointly asserted our love
of a Japanese dinner and Mexican lunch.

My final term as vessel for others’ tastes,
I remember nothing but burgers
slathered in hot English mustard
like Atticus, all solid and spice.
I chopped garlic in labour
And birthed him to the clatter of Chinese steel.

Our kitchens, taste genres of Socratic method,
rhythms of kneading dough, cranking pasta sheets,
and chop chop chopping endless globes of garlic,
the only warm spaces in unheated houses
where we share a taste for desire
desiring taste.

How Joel Salatin Unknowingly Convinced Me to Become a Farmer

I spent the second half of my childhood living on a 2000 acre cattle ranch in Oregon. Before that, we were city slickers in Orange County, California (before anyone called it ‘the OC’). In spite of this idyllic existence where my cowgirl dreams came true, I didn’t learn much of the ways of the land, so to speak. We had a ranch-hand in charge of the cattle, and although my parents were deeply involved, we kids largely just went along for the lark of a good round-up. I was good on a horse and knew a lot about their care, as well as the castrating and vaccination routines of pasture-fed cattle, but I couldn’t have told you a thing about growing fruit or vegetables, and chickens were a total mystery.

Three years after high school, I found myself on the cliffs of Wales, walking with a lover I met in a hostel in London after dropping out of university while protesting the 1991 Gulf War. I’m vegetarian. We’re discussing our life’s dreams in that starry-eyed youthful way, and I pronounce my intention to own a property in Colorado someday, near enough to Boulder that there will be a like-minded community of hippies and dreamers, but far enough out to buy a farm big enough to do some serious growing. My lover says, ‘no way. I totally can’t picture you on a farm.’ (He also shortly thereafter informed me he had recently left the Australian Army Reserves. It is one of the true mysteries of this story that we are still together 19 years later…)

Some six years later, my lover/husband and I visited Daylesford for the first time. As always when we spend time in the country, we were enchanted and immediately commence dplans to move there. We signed the Convent Gallery’s guestbook with, ‘we’ll be back… to live next time.’

Since we met, Stuart and I have spent a total of two years actually living in the country, one in a small town in Oregon, where for most of the year we lived in a gorgeous little log cabin under a magnificent cherry tree, the other on a remote property in far east Gippsland, Victoria, which is an environmental education campus for Year 9 girls. The latter year was a pastoral dream, a poetic success, and professionally challenging. We swore again that we would live in the country on our own property one day…

But in all these pastoral dreams, I never really entertained the notion of actually being a farmer, in the sense of a producer for a market to make a living. Mine has always been a hippie’s halcyon daydream of self-sufficiency. Which, unsurprisingly, is probably why we haven’t yet made it happen. Exactly how do we earn a living on our own little unplugged piece of the planet? Even around Daylesford, there’s not a lot of work for an academic and a business development manager in building automation technologies.

But everything changed when we heard Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms last weekend. In case you haven’t heard of Joel, he describes himself as an environmentalist, capitalist, lunatic farmer. He is one of the most intelligent, charismatic speakers to whom I have had the pleasure to listen, and he did a great job of busting my every stereotype of ‘dumb farmers’. He even has a philosophy about that…

We went to the Lakehouse to hear Joel talk about building a local food system, and how to scale up ‘without losing your soul’. I was interested in the way I always am – how can we feed the world through smaller, more local production where farmers are embedded in communities? You know, the usual, ‘how do we save the world’ sort of questions that are my trademark. I came away convinced that the best way for Stuart and I to help save the world was not simply by ‘living the changes we wish to see in the world’ but by flogging them and making a living from them as well. Yes, I’m convinced that we can and should be primary producers. I give us about five years to get through a start-up period. How did Joel convert me?

Here are the highlights of Joel’s double-feature seminar, in note form with minimal editorialising.

First of all, a local food system has six components:


  • local farms will be ‘aesthetically and aromatically, sensually romantic’. Large scale commodity ‘farms’ are so opaque they allow unsustainable practices. Local producers are embedded in communities. The industrial economy has created ‘commercial apartheid’ – it is ‘opaque, confused and inefficient… with a semblance of efficiency only enabled by cheap energy’. Stop subsidising the petrochemical industry and cheap, industrial food will have to increase in price.
  • (Sadface fact of the day: in California, organic growers are now required to sign an affadavit to keep under-5-year-olds off their farm because they might wear nappies, which might contaminate the produce. See my rant on agro-industry for my thoughts on this sadness.)
  • Local producers look after the ‘ecological umbilical’ with practices such as pasture-based livestock, stacking and symbiosis.
  • Farms should be solar driven (not petrochemical). Fertiliser is in-sourced.
  • Farmers should be ‘Jeffersonian intellectual agrarians’. 🙂 In order for ‘city folk’ to take farmers seriously, they need to professionalise and outwardly express their intelligence.
  • Traditional family farmers are not good at creating a successionally successful business – they must learn to collaborate and take on more young workers outside the family where necessary.


  • With our loss of local canneries, butchers, bakeries, etc, we must reclaim spaces for community food processing, such as church halls.
  • Government regulations are not scalable for small operations. At some point, we should be able to take individual responsibility for our food choices (eg raw milk).


  • Most farmers are not very good accountants. You need to be able to understand which of your products are being subsidised by others and do something about it if you want to be profitable.


  • No matter how good your produce is, people need to know it exists. A great way for small farms to market more easily is to collaborate with other small producers nearby.


  • Distribution can be the great bottleneck for small, local producers, who end up selling everything to supermarkets via the big distributors. Again, collaboration with other local growers can solve this problem.


  • Every product needs a consumer, & a small, local farmer’s patrons are likely to be people who appreciate seasonality, who are excited about rediscovering their kitchens, and who know that processed food is expensive.

In the second seminar on scaling up, Joel went into more detail about Polyface Farm. Here’s what we learned…

  • Polyface sales are approximately 25% on-farm, 35% restaurant and boutique supermarket, and 45% ‘box drop’ internet sales.
  • They separate the delivery fee from the farmer’s cost so consumers can see how much goes to the farmer – as Joel said, he’s a farmer, not a transporter.
  • His boundary is deliveries within 4 hours of Polyface.
  • The box drop system works much better than farmers’ market attendance – there’s no speculation about what stock to take, they deliver to a central point at agreed time and customers collect their boxes, which they were able to choose from entire inventory. (The internet, once conceived as a tool of globalisation, has emerged as an excellent tool for localisation.)
  • Polyface employs interns and apprentices, provides housing and board and very small stipends.
The Mental Protection from Wall Streetification of Polyface
  1. Never have a sales target.
  2. No trademarks or patents. ‘Hold your innovations lightly.’
  3. Identify your market boundaries. (Then you can just tell those outside them to seek other fabulous local growers, thus supporting the movement & reducing your own stress.)
  4. Incentivised workforce (bonuses and commissions). [apologies to those who hate ‘incentivise’, which isn’t a word, I know. Am quoting.]
  5. No Initial Public Offering (IPO). That way you will never be beholden to shareholders, whose primary aim is merely to make a profit themselves.
  6. No advertising – it’s all word of mouth.
  7. Stay in the ecological carrying capacity (the ecology of the farm should be able to metabolise its own waste).
  8. People answer the phone.
  9. Respect the pigness of the pig.
  10. Quality always has to go up. (If you can’t increase quality when increasing volume, then don’t increase your volume.)

Two other quick, interesting, important points:

And I quote,

“GMO is evil.”

Patenting seeds and suing small growers, including traditional native American communities, when patented DNA is found in their seed stock is EVIL. Indeed.

Organic certification is insufficient as it is a pass/fail system. Those who would get a D- are alongside those who would earn an A+ – it’s a perverse incentive to work to the lowest common denominator. For example, one farm might produce all of its own organic compost – all of its outputs become inputs for the farm – no organic waste leaves the property. Another might bring in organic fish emulsion from the east coast, which has been sourced as a byproduct of Japanese driftnets and has a carbon footprint bigger than importing petrochemical fertilisers from Australia (this is to the US, of course).

According to Joel, if you ask whether something is organic, and the producer or seller says, ‘yes’, the conversation is over and you buy it. There are many things that might be environmentally or ethically suspect about the produce, but they are masked by the organic certification. When he’s asked why he doesn’t certify, there is a conversation, everybody learns more, and the word is spread further. 🙂

As I listened to Joel, it increasingly dawned on me that many arguments against running a small farm were being systematically debunked. He is a passionate advocate for farming in a way that is socially, environmentally and fiscally sustainable. He speaks my language. He writes fascinating books detailing what we only heard a few hours of. And he’s on the lecture circuit proselytising about all of it. Zomigod, I can do that.