For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into an outlet – and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:
For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into
an outlet, and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:
In most of the Midwest, both solar and wind power are needed for a home to go off-grid. That’s because the region doesn’t get enough sun in winter, or enough wind in summer. Dave Van Dyke has both. He’s had a 100-foot wind mill tower on his northern Michigan property for nearly 10 years.
“I’d guess there’s hundreds up in northern MI. They’re not so well known because they are small. Unless you’re in a place to see them, you don’t even notice them. Like mine. We’ve had one there since 96, and some of my neighbors in Maple City still don’t know it’s there, until I said something.”
Van Dyke and his wife first used solar panels and then added the small wind generator for their home’s energy needs. More recently, they started a farm business on their 31 acres and
bought a more powerful wind generator.
“Right from the start we’ve been interested in renewable energy. We
were just homesteaders, basically trying to figure out how this off the
grid homestead was going to evolve. It turned into a farm just three years
Van Dyke uses wind and solar power because it’s environmentally friendly. But he says there are disadvantages to going off-grid. His first generator was problem free, but still required at least a yearly climb to maintain the tower.
The second generator has had a lot of mechanical problems. It was once down for eight months. The Van Dykes had to install a backup line connecting them to the grid. So it’s meant some work and inconvenience for them.
Jackie Ankerson lives near the Van Dykes. Two years ago she and her
husband installed a wind and solar system. She said because their 5-acre property is in a remote area, it helped justify the cost of between 15 and 17-thousand-dollars to go with the alternative generation system.
“Because of where we chose to live, it would have cost us almost as
much to bring in grid power as it did for our off-grid system.”
The desire to live in a remote place where power lines don’t run is a
common reason people install alternative energy systems. Another is a green conscience. John Heiss says he likes working with those homeowners. Heiss owns Northwoods Energy. Based in northern Michigan, he travels nine months of the year installing alternative home energy systems.
Heiss has customers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and even Mexico. Some want to control their own energy supplies, instead of relying on the power grid. Some are die-hard do-it-yourselfers. Others want to protect themselves from rising energy prices and diminishing supplies. They want to do their part to conserve fossil fuels.
“There’s a big consciousness. Right now we’re listening to our president tell us about an energy plan, and it’s not hitting any of these issues, and there’s people calling me every day asking about these issues, wanting to do something about it. They’re saying, well this is nuts.”
It’s a big change from 1992, when Heiss started his company. The first few years, business was slow. Today, his phone rings steadily.
“Somebody calls every day for something. I can really pick and choose who I do projects for, besides the fact that I have over 200 systems installed right now that I’m maintaining and servicing and keeping those alive, cause that’s a full time job at times..”
But Heiss winds up talking a lot of potential customers out of installing alternative energy. Maintenance is one reason. Others don’t realize how much power they use, and get sticker shock at the cost of a comparable alternative system. Instead of going off the grid, Heiss says those homeowners can help in other ways. He suggests they choose more efficient appliances and lighting. That minimizes the amount of power they need.
“It’s much easier not to spend as much money by changing lifestyle, and doing it without sacrificing, just making good choices.”
If homeowners still want alternative energy, they might need permits. More townships and counties are setting regulations, especially for wind towers. Some homeowners think it will all be worth it when they can sell surplus power back to the grid. But Heiss says they’re mistaken.
“A large percentage of people are misled, and think that they can make money selling renewable energy, power to electric companies. You’re not going to make it. You’ve got to realize at best it’s going to be a break even proposition.”
If a customer is not only willing to accept all that, but does so with a passion and enthusiasm, Heiss says he’s found someone he can work for.
For the GLRC, I’m Cari Noga.