Earth Day Ruminations: On or Off The Grid?


In light of this past Earth Day, I have been thinking a lot about solar power, sustainable power grids, and conservation.On a recent trip to The Big Island of Hawaii, I found out that the residents pay very high rates for power, and that their power plants are mostly coal-plants which haven’t been retrofitted much since the 1960’s. The good news is that this is dynamic is about to change. According to a September 2014 article on the web site by Tam Hunt,  HELCO (Hawaii Electric Light Company) has implemented a plan to create 92 percent renewable electricity on The Big Island of Hawaii by 2030. Some of these power sources will include wind, solar, and geothermal sources, although due to the volatility of the volcanoes on the island, leading scientists are wary about how these sources will be implemented and maintained.

I know, you’re probably thinking, so what?! We live in California, so how does this relate to power and resources here on the mainland? Interestingly, it could have a indirect impact, especially in terms of laws and regulations regarding solar power. According to a recent post on Island Pacific Energy’s company web page, incentives for Hawaii residents are going to reduced by half as of 2016, which essentially means that if you own a solar unit which is producing enough energy to feed the grid as well as power your own home, you will receive only half the incentive rebates you have been receiving up to now. Beyond that, the type of units with the capability to sustain off-grid power output will no longer be sold, and installing them will violate municipal codes. Yes, feeding the grid will be against the law. Could this also happen in California? You bet! Why, you ask? Because sustainable off-grid power cuts into power company profits, and we can’t have that, can we; Or can we?

Many of us here in California are conserving water as best we can. We flush less, we water our yards very infrequently, if at all, and we pay higher prices for produce as water rates increase. We also do our part by looking to solar power as a potential source of energy which can offset our state’s reliance on petroleum based power sources. We say “O.K.” to large wind farms which provide sustainable power to millions of homes. We pay high taxes. We drive hybrid vehicles, (or our bicycles) and choose public transportation. We may or may not own homes or wish to own homes, but we all pay for power, and in the future we hope to pay for renewable power we can feel good about that will sustain us and future generations.

Why should we allow large power companies to thwart our efforts at progress toward sustainability? The town of Fowler, Colorado is proof that off grid living is not only possible, but that it works for day to day living. However, there is a trade-off: living off grid is not always easy. Some instructions by a Fowler resident are explained here:

However just because power companies may have to reconfigure their business models doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for some kind of balance in our power grids where we, the residents of our states and cities, can slowly transition from using petroleum based power  sources to more sustainable practices without having to shoulder expensive premiums and penalties for going off the grid. My advice is just to pay attention to what you see on the ballot here in California this year and do some thoughtful research before voting in the upcoming elections. It’s in all of our best interest to make sure we can keep improving our efforts at increasing renewable power sources and sustainable practices in our communities without being thwarted by power companies who might be worried more about the bottom line than a sustainable future!

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