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The Electrici-Tea Party: When Greed Is Not So Good for the Greedy

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By Ramona Byron


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Yesterday, I was putting together old planters to build a miniature fish reef for our new catfish pond. I was using the power drill to make some holes in the sides of the planters so that small fish and water could move through them. A pump was running the waterfall for the pond, an aquarium was running inside the house, our water maker was operating, and we had the dishwasher on.

Because it was a half-cloudy day, Mike told me that we had to briefly cut back on power usage so that the batteries for our solar power system would not get drained too low. Rather than turn off the dishwasher, we turned off the waterfall and water maker, and I took a welcome break from drilling holes and did some reading instead. The best thing about timing your power usage is that you can get compulsory breaks from work when the sun goes behind a cloud. About 15 minutes later, Mike gave the go-ahead and I resumed my project of building the fish reef.

After a short time, Mike came to me with a mean-sounding letter from the local power company. They were unhappy because we had not bothered to respond to their earlier voice mail message, mainly because we didn't see much of a point in it. This time, they told us in no uncertain terms that they would cut off our grid power unless we immediately set an appointment for a meeting with them to discuss our solar power system. Mike asked what I wanted to do. Without looking up from my fish reef, I answered:

"Screw them. Tell them to turn it off."

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OK, full disclosure here: I did not actually use the word "screw." I used a much saltier term that is more befitting of two Navy veterans such as Mike and myself, who have been known to turn the local atmosphere into an impressive shade of Navy blue when the situation calls for it, as this one did.

So Mike called the guy at the power company. Barely able to contain his amusement, Mike very politely told him, "Go ahead and turn it off whenever you want. We don't need your electricity." After listening for a few minutes to the shocked and sputtered remarks from the power company guy, Mike delivered the coup de grace with dead-pan perfection:

"Actually, we turned it off ourselves a month ago."

After we got over our fit of laughter, we uncorked a bottle of champagne and had ourselves an Electrici-Tea Party, declaring ourselves free and independent of the electricity grid.

This morning, I got up as usual well before dawn. I turned on the living room and kitchen lights, read awhile on the Kindle Fire, ground up some coffee beans, and made a pot of coffee. Mike finally loafed in around 7:30 a.m., and as is his habit, he went to the garage to check the status of the solar power system's batteries. He came back in and told me that a blinking red light on the power controller was informing us that the grid no longer existed for us. The power company had excommunicated us.

I looked up at the kitchen light that was shining steadily, and poured myself another cup of hot coffee. "I hadn't noticed," I answered.

We began this journey about a year ago. Mike, being a Ph.D. in Political Science and all, up and decided that he was capable of designing a solar power system, complete with batteries. He drew upon his experience working in Navy electronics, he did a lot of research, and then he designed a system that can meet our needs, stand alone, and last for days of cloudy weather.

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We obtained a city permit -- not in order to feed into the power grid, but because we wanted our system to have an official blessing that it was as safe as possible. After all, we were locating a hydrogen-producing bank of batteries in the garage, where we have our gas water heater, where we store flammables like paint, and where our group of tortoises spend the night in a pen in one corner. A wrong move, and we could end up with a crater for a garage and crispy critters for pets. With those kind of things at risk, you definitely want to build to code.

We might have set the system up to feed into the grid, but the greedy power company demands that solar power users pay them thousands of dollars for a heftier cable to connect to their system, and then they would give us nothing whatsoever in return for the 100% profit that they would receive by selling to other users our free gift to them of our excess electricity. That just didn't make economic sense to us.

So instead of giving the power company thousands of dollars for the privilege of gifting them with our excess electricity to sell at a total profit, we used the money to buy the batteries that made us independent of them entirely.

As I ("ahem") said before: Screw them. Sometimes greed is NOT good.

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Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including (more...)

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