The Grid: On…and Off Part II

By , August 17, 2013

In the last post I shared information on the precarious state of our nation’s electrical grids (see The Grid: On…and Off). This and other experiences have made me thankful for our off-the-grid electrical system, and has made me an advocate for generating one’s own power.

I have never experienced a large grid failure. I did not live in the areas affected by the egregious Enron malfeasance during the period in which they bilked utility consumers. But, even on the small scale, I’ve experienced or witnessed plenty of difficulties with municipal electrical supplies.

My state’s capital, Juneau, seems particularly prone to power outages. Our family’s “Pioneer Nights” grew out of a need to be prepared for loss of power (see “Pioneer Night”: Making Conservation and Emergency Preparedness Fun).

After we moved to our homestead, things got far worse for Juneau. One winter an avalanche wiped out a section of the power lines that deliver electricity from a remote dam to the city. The local utility switched to diesel power. They begged citizens to take drastic conservation measures to reduce costs, promising that their cooperation would be rewarded when the crisis had passed. Specifically, they promised that they would not raise rates to compensate for the company’s losses. Shortly after the repair of the power lines and a return to normal operations, the utility raised their rates—drastically! In my view, the people of Juneau paid for the catastrophe, through financial loss and inconvenience, many times over.

I also remember when Sitka shut down for a week or more when I was a kid. Heavy rains overwhelmed the city’s hydroelectric generators; we had to sit tight till the flood waters receded.

Unfortunately, the best solution to outrageous energy costs for our region’s bush communities appears to be creating interties to connect their communities with larger ones like Juneau and Sitka, that already face electrical problems.

Haines, north of us, has its share of power outages; we’re struggling, as a community, to improve our hydroelectric system to increase power production without threatening our fragile fish stocks. Through it all, our family chugs along on solar and wind power. Our system certainly has its own problems, but we solve them ourselves. We don’t wait for power to be restored, we work to restore it on our own.

I don’t necessarily recommend getting completely off the grid. This life is not for everyone. But there are a lot of wind and solar systems available for suburban homes. These can be installed and, in many states, tied into the local utility. When the grid’s up, you can reduce your electrical bill by whatever amounts you can generate. If you create more than you use, some states require the utilities to credit you for that power! If the grid goes down, you’ve got your own power generating equipment in place, ready to keep your home on track while everyone around you scrambles to find the emergency candles in the back of the junk drawer. Many businesses have started doing this; it’s called “distributed power.” It helps reduce the load on the major grids. If it doesn’t actually prevent outages, it at least keeps the companies in business through the outage. It’s a good idea for private citizens as well.

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