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Old Posted May 22, 2007, 3:24 PM
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MarkDaMan MarkDaMan is offline
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Central Oregon upscale gated community staying unplugged from power grid

Central Oregon homeowners staying off the grid
Owners of 250 homes near Lake Billy Chinook use
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
JOSEPH B. FRAZIER
The Oregonian

LAKE BILLY CHINOOK -- Before power lines, homesteaders had no choice. They lit their lanterns, stoked their fires and packed away winter ice against sizzling summers.

Owners of about 250 homes in the Three Rivers community near this central Oregon lake are far from homesteading or camping out. But they are among a growing number of Americans who shun power lines, choosing to live off the grid, without commercial power.

All the residents of Three Rivers get most of their power from solar panels on their rooftops or on nearby freestanding structures positioned to more efficiently capture the sun's energy. Some supplement it with energy generated by windmills.

Solar power easily handles their computers, lights, large-screen televisions, microwave ovens, refrigerator-freezers and more.

"Ninety percent of the people here, if (outside) power were offered to them, they'd turn it down," said Gary Sweet, a semiretired insurance agent who moved to the high desert community in central Oregon a couple of years ago.

Off-the-grid living is edging into the American mainstream. It isn't there yet, but about 180,000 homes, mostly in the West, operate on it.

National demand is soaring, and the off-the-grid movement is yet to be felt in a significant way by the power industry, said Jim Owen of the Edison Energy Institute in Washington, D.C. In the short term at least, he said, "I can't imagine any appreciable impact on the system."

Nonetheless, the number of people going off the grid increases by about a third each year, said Richard Perez, who publishes Home Power magazine, dedicated to the topic, and Lori Ryker, who has written two books on the subject.

Much of the growth is in California. Off-the-grid living is also growing in Texas, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

"It pretty much tracks where the best rebates are" for the cost of the equipment, said Connie Said of Home Power. She said 80 percent of the magazine's subscriptions are in California.

It's occurring mostly in the West because of people moving into remote areas that are beyond the reach of commercial power, because of ample sun and environmental conscientiousness, and possibly because of Westerners' traditional independent streak.

Residents in the decidedly upscale, gated Three Rivers community could easily afford the $300,000 the power company said it would cost to extend its lines three miles or so to their property 10 years ago.

But they've decided to stay off the grid.

"With power lines come streetlights, and there go your stars at night," Sweet said. "And there are no power outages here."

Off-the-grid residents have a guaranteed power supply at a time when the emphasis on "clean" energy is on the rise. Solar energy uses no resources to speak of, emits no pollution and is immune to energy price hikes.

Still, living off the grid isn't cheap.

High demand for solar panels and improved technology has kept the price up, and homeowners in Three Rivers say an advanced solar energy system can cost $25,000 for the panels, batteries, inverter and other equipment. Some companies offer cheaper systems, and the federal government and most states offer tax credits.

Savings over commercial power costs depend on the investment and durability of the system and local energy prices.

Don Bliss of Three Rivers has a windmill to supplement his solar panels when the sun isn't shining but said it couldn't do the job alone.

Residents with wells need generators for the pumps that fill their cisterns, and propane powers high-demand appliances such as stoves.

Beyond that, the sun does the job.

Silent and simple, with no moving parts, solar panels convert sunlight to DC energy, send it through inverters that change it to AC and store it in batteries that can supply the 110-volt needs of a home for three or four days. The panels last about 25 years, the banks of batteries about 10. If the batteries run low during cloudy periods, generators recharge them.

"We went from Feb. 11 to Sept. 15 (in 2006), and the generator never ran. All solar," Sweet said.

With six- and seven-figure homes, residents of Three Rivers share nothing with the homesteaders of the past.

Richard Perez might have come closer.

He headed for the remote solitude of southernmost Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains in 1970 and was told it would cost $270,000 -- then -- to extend commercial power to his site.

"We built with a handsaw, and it was seven years before we had electricity, 10 before we had appreciable solar power in here," Perez said. "We started with a generator and gradually added solar. We rarely use the generator except during extended cloudy periods. I'd rather eat a bug than burn gas.

"When we need to use electricity we don't hesitate," said Perez, adding that visitors often don't know he is off the grid unless he tells them.

http://www.oregonlive.com/business/o...290.xml&coll=7
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Old Posted May 23, 2007, 3:26 AM
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I wish I could join them, but inner city living is not real condusive to off the grid living. Maybe a windmill and solar panels on my balcony?....Not as I can hear the Condo Comandos comming after me now.
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Old Posted May 24, 2007, 8:39 PM
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"High demand for solar panels and improved technology has kept the price up, and homeowners in Three Rivers say an advanced solar energy system can cost $25,000 for the panels, batteries, inverter and other equipment. Some companies offer cheaper systems, and the federal government and most states offer tax credits."

I believe the average household electricy bill is around $200 - $250 per month, right? That's, say, $2200 a year. By ten years (sans accounting for inflation and increased energy costs) that system will be paid off and I'm willing to bet the resale value will increase significantly over the $25,000 investment.
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Old Posted May 29, 2007, 3:52 PM
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I pay about $20 a month for electricity, but I have gas stove and water heater and city steam. I expect it will go up in the next year as I switch over to a central air system.
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Old Posted May 29, 2007, 7:05 PM
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The idea of off-the-grid is facinating. I didn't know it could actually be done. I live in Utah, so I'm beginning to let the wheels spin in my head of actually doing it.

How much do panels cost? Generally how long does it take the "break even" (savings in electricity = cost of the panel)
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Old Posted May 31, 2007, 4:10 PM
Jesse276 Jesse276 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike K. View Post
"High demand for solar panels and improved technology has kept the price up, and homeowners in Three Rivers say an advanced solar energy system can cost $25,000 for the panels, batteries, inverter and other equipment. Some companies offer cheaper systems, and the federal government and most states offer tax credits."

I believe the average household electricy bill is around $200 - $250 per month, right? That's, say, $2200 a year. By ten years (sans accounting for inflation and increased energy costs) that system will be paid off and I'm willing to bet the resale value will increase significantly over the $25,000 investment.
The average near me is about $100 and electricity is cheaper in the Pacific NW.
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Old Posted Jun 4, 2007, 8:16 PM
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Perfect place to live in the event of a zombie outbreak.
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2007, 8:16 AM
zilfondel zilfondel is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by i-215 View Post
The idea of off-the-grid is facinating. I didn't know it could actually be done. I live in Utah, so I'm beginning to let the wheels spin in my head of actually doing it.

How much do panels cost? Generally how long does it take the "break even" (savings in electricity = cost of the panel)
People have actually been doing this (mainstream) since the 1960s, when it became really popular.

There are several ways of going about it ... but by far the most affordable is to:
  1. remodel/build your house to take advantage of solar heat gain and lighting, which depends on where you live and what the climate is like
  2. insulate the heck out of your house - and if you live in a desert - make sure it has plenty of thermal mass
  3. size the electrical appliances in your house to use the minimum amount of electricity necessary - dump the computer for a laptop, use only energy star appliances, and forego the clothes dryer
  4. install hot water solar panels to handle 100% of your water needs
  5. size a PV system to handle 100% of your (reduced) electrical needs
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2007, 9:48 AM
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The main thing I think about this kind of thing on a house isn't the payback period, it's the rate of return on the investment. If say your bill per year is 2000 on a 20000 solar system, then that is a 10%% rate of return. It should be treated as an investment where at the end of the "payback" period it still has a 20000 value. If you tell someone they have a 10% investment oppertunity, instead of a cost that will pay off in 10 years, there is a big difference.
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