Friday, June 19, 2009

Why Are We Going Off The Grid?

The weather is not coorperating with my plans to get my peppers into my garden, so I figured I'd write a bit about reducing dependence on electricity.

When we talk to people about going off the grid, some people think we're crazy. No, we are not crazy. What we do think is crazy, however, is incurring an unecessary bill each and every month for the rest of your life.

Others people we talk to have thought about it, but think it is out of their reach. Here are some of the things we've heard:

  1. I can't afford it
  2. I can't do it where I live right now
  3. It's too complicated
  4. My kids could never go without their video games

To this, I say that going off the grid:

  1. Doesn't have to cost a small fortune
  2. Isn't something you have to do all at once
  3. Is easier than you think
  4. Gives your kids new things to enjoy... don't sell them short
I'm not against electricity. It can do some amazing things and can make life much more comfortable. But let's be honest. As a culture, we waste a lot of electricity. Since most electricity is created from generators that run on petroleum products, when we waste electricity we are wasting oil. Last I checked, Americans complain about the rising cost of gasoline to anyone who will listen, and our media spends a lot of time reporting on the cost of oil. The cost to produce electricity, however, isn't brought up nearly as often. While we stomp our feet about the price at the pump, we only grumble softly about the rising cost of electricity.

There are several good reasons to cut back on oil consumption. For some people, saving the environment is the motivating factor. Electricity from an oil-based (or coal-based) source will add polutants to the environment. I don't care if you believe in Climate Change or not. Adding more polutants into the environment isn't a smart idea for long term sustainability. So, if there is a chance that we are effecting the planet in a harmful way, it is in our best long-term interests to stop.

For others, like us, going off the grid is more financially motivated. The freedom of never having to pay another electric bill is reason enough. Not owing this money every month allows you to save the extra money, put it toward other obligations, or simply not have to spend as much time working to pay for it.

Another financial point to consider is that on each and every utility bill, there are taxes. There are the taxes you see, and the taxes you do not see. Each bill has taxes itemized, and typically, it's just a few bucks. Multiply that by the millions of people in this country who are paying those few bucks, and you have a significant source of tax-based revenue. Add to that the hidden tax...the utility company is also taxed (just like every other business) on the sale of their product. This expense is factored into the price of the utility and passed along to customers.

Why is this an issue? Well, consider this: are you happy with how the government (any level, local, state, or federal) has spent your tax dollars? If the answer is no, then why pay them any money you do not absolutely have to? If you purchase power through a utility company, you are paying more taxes than you have to. Our system of government is broken, and it cannot be fixed through voting with ballots. We can, however, change things by voting with our dollars and spending habits.

There is, however, a trade off in going off the grid. Many tasks will have to be done manually, and that may also mean purchasing non-electric versions of appliances and tools. Some electricity can be generated through small solar and wind set ups that do not cost a small fortune. That means, however, whatever appliances or equipment being used must be the most energy-efficient models available.

Obviously, thanks to electricity, I'm able to post to this blog. One of the reasons that I got this laptop is because it takes less power to charge than my desktop. (Eventually, we will be retiring the desktop.) A laptop is one of the only electronically powered items that I can justify keeping after we move to the property in Maine. This provides, news, communication, and provides entertainment (Hulu, DVD player, etc.).

Going off the grid does not mean spending $100,000 on solar panels, though one could go that route. It also doesn't mean turning your back on all technology either, though there is nothing wrong with that if that's the kind of life you want. There is a lot of middle ground.

In my next post, I'll address how to reduce your dependence on electricity while still living in a rented apartment.

Live better, a little every day.

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