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Living Off the Grid: The New Normal

More and more people worldwide are living off the grid. That’s grid as in power grid, as in getting electricity from public utilities that draw on regional transmission systems. As consumers, extricating ourselves from utility companies and getting electricity from sustainable sources has always been the stuff of self-reliant rogues. But that trend is changing quickly. Since public utilities produce energy with fossil fuels, not using their electricity reduces the carbon footprint.  In Waltham, Vermont, the rooftops in a new low-income development brandish shiny, solar panels, taking in the sun’s rays that feed energy to backup batteries in basements. And this isn’t a development of single homeowners or a community. It’s an innovative program from an electric company. A recent story in the New York Times is about that electric company, Green Mountain Power, whose program lets their Vermont customers disconnect from the grid and turn their homes into mini power plants. This is a clear break from business as usual and Green Mountain is realizing both environmental and financial advantages. The less electricity Green Mountain Power gets from the regional transmission system, the less fees it pays. If homeowners are producing their own electricity, Green Mountain Power can remotely draw from customer’s batteries the excess energy they are producing to use elsewhere.


For a few decades, the trend of living off the grid has been by individual efforts or in various communities across the United States. As of 2013, current estimates are that 1.7 billion people in the world live off the grid. According to Home Power Magazine, at least 180,000 families are living off the grid in the United States and that number increases each year. Some sustainable communities can be found here. Places that have been established as places for off-the-grid homeowners are:  Central Oregon, Three Rivers Recreation Area: 625 homeowners are off-the-grid using solar-powered electricity for high-speed internet and satellite television; the Greater World Community in Taos, N.M: home to the world’s first “Earthship” subdivision of sustainable homes and solar-powered buildings made of eco-friendly materials; Breitenbush, an Oregon community with approximately 60 permanent residents; Earthaven, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, a planned community of 60 residents in homes powered by solar power and hydropower; Dancing Rabbit is an ecovillage in northeast Missouri, home to 45 residents living sustainably.

But back in Waltham, Vermont, Green Mountain has offered their customers a chance to live off the grid, but also to access Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system, which was released in 2015. According to the New York Times, Green Mountain is starting a new program offering the Tesla battery to as many as 2,000 customers for $15 a month over 10 years, or a one-time payment of $1,500.  Green Mountain is a leading example of the transformation the utility sector is undergoing. The paradigm is shifting. No longer is the model to have one big distant, air-polluting, CO2-emitting power plant delivering electricity over a massive, aging grid to many customers at a fixed, regulated price. Vermont is nimbly embracing a modern system with multiple power sources including solar farms and rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, coupled with batteries. These sources have lower production and transmission costs, fewer emissions, and variable pricing keyed to demand. Bravo Green Mountain! Bravo, Vermont!

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