I promised myself that I would add one of these stories here every time I told one. I tell them at one point or another throughout the summer. There will be no chronology - not yet anyway - nor will there be much of a schedule. You never know; I might add a story every day and I might not. This is my life. Every day is an adventure.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Going off the Grid

I read a post on Facebook yesterday where a friend of mine vented about extra charges being added to her utilities bill specifically earmarked to help the government pay for some of it's excesses, and without any prior notice or opportunity to vote. This little detail was probably tucked in with some other excess that succeeded in clawing it's way through the voting system and was strategically never mentioned. Personally, I'd be tempted to take an ax to that nice little ticking time-bomb attached to the side of my house. Of course, you can't do that if you don't own the house. You could get sued.

However, it got me thinking. Just how hard is it to go off the grid? I really don't know. Prior to moving out here, the 'grid' was a given, one of those things taken for granted and never thought of until the electricity went out in some storm. All you can do is hunker down, shed a tear for the contents of the freezer, and wait for the company to fix the problem.

That's the way I thought until this happened a short time after I married my husband. We lived in a trailer park in an aging trailer and there was a mean snow-storm going on outside. When we lost power, my husband dug out a small generator and an extension cord, and wallah, we endured the outage while watching TV. We also had a lamp plugged in so, in the whole trailer park, we were the only one lit up. I was so proud of my smart husband. Who knew such a thing could be so easy?

I know now that hooking your house up to a private generator can be dangerous too, especially for the nice man who comes around to check your usage or for someone else down the line who might be working on the reason for the outage itself, but the generator wasn't hooked into the house power so they were all safe. I also now know that there are special breakers you can install that will allow you to use your own generator to run your whole house. Though that idea was very tempting, I never really thought much about 'going off the grid' even like that. When we moved out here, we moved far beyond city electricity and water, and having a little generator and using the outhouse or a pitcher-pump for water was just another part of the adventure.

Consider for a moment how all these power companies got their start. Someone figured out how to generate electricity (I don't know how, so don't ask), and they discovered that it was really easy to generate more than enough for a single house. In fact it's pretty darn easy to generate enough for several houses, you just need a big enough generator and there are many available to buy. And if you decide to go this route, and your neighbors decide to complain about the noise, all you have to do is offer to share.

Let's say, with your house as the center, you have 8 immediate neighbors - 3 across the street in front of you, 3 across the alley behind you and one on either side of you. You buy a 12KW or bigger diesel generator and put it in your garage. If each of those neighbors buys you five gallons of diesel or pays you the equivalent, you are likely to come out ahead in the first week. Don't take my math as a for-sure because I don't know the numbers when it comes to running a 12KW, but I'm not far off. That 'extra' could and should go into generator maintenance and oil, and anything else that might be necessary, I'm not a mechanic and I know even less about maintaining a generator, diesel or otherwise.

So, go to the gas station and look at the price of five gallons of diesel. Consider that it might last you a week, and then look at your electric bill (divided by 4, since it's for a month), which is cheaper? Without doing the math myself, I think buying diesel once a week is tons cheaper. I think having a noisy generator in your garage is a small price to pay, and I think that noisy generator would pay for itself in no time. Noise can always be muffled by soundproofing, and you get used to it to the point that you don't notice it until it's off for the night or for an oil change.

So tell me, how hard is it really, to go off the grid? Will the company sue you for not using their service? Will they try to bring some other pressure to bear? Likely, but can they really force you to hook up to city electricity? Now water you may just have to take - the plumbing is already there and it's not as if you all want to haul gallons and gallons of water every day just so you can wash your clothes or dishes.