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NY Times – Living Off-Grid

Steve Spence, Director of Green-Trust on Off grid living in the NY Times Escape section, May 30th, 2008:

Steve is quoted as saying “You start adjusting your way of life around some of the natural rhythms of nature.”

Practically speaking, you’ll need to do some research before building your backwoods getaway. Homepower magazine and Mother Earth News are two recommendations from Steve Spence, director of Green-Trust.org, a nonprofit renewable-energy advocate. “But then when it comes to actually getting into it to see if it’s something you want to do for your whole home,” he said, “I recommend taking a travel trailer or an R.V. or a boat or even one room in your house and move that off-grid. Install some solar panels, put in a battery, put in a generator and plug some loads into it and see how it works.”

That’s because energy is usually the first element in disconnecting from the mainstream. “Most people who try to move off-grid tackle their electricity needs first, and solar is by far the most popular source of home-produced electricity,” said Dave Black, author of “Living Off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-Reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter and More” (Skyhorse Publishing), scheduled to be published in October. But, as Mr. Spence noted, every situation is different. Some regions are sunny and work better with solar power; others are overcast and blustery and lend themselves to wind power.

Keep in mind that completely do-it-yourself power systems are expensive. But Mr. Spence added, “If you go grid-tie,” which means connecting your system to the power company’s existing services, “there are federal and state rebates that can pay for up to half your system.” To find out more about these incentives, go to www.dsireusa.org.

The other challenge of completely disconnecting is that you have to be your own power company and do your own maintenance.

The upside, as Mr. Spence sees it, is that the experience will educate you about your energy consumption and how to manage your usage.

“If it’s a nice, bright sunny day and you’re doing the laundry, instead of throwing the stuff in the dryer, you might decide to throw it on the line for a few hours,” he said. “You start adjusting your way of life around some of the natural rhythms of nature.”

But that doesn’t mean giving up the modern world completely. “We have all the goodies,” Mr. Spence said of his own home in upstate New York. “We’ve got the large-screen L.C.D. TVs, high-speed Internet, microwave and the standard stuff you would find in a normal home. We just have to run it off the sun.”

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