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Off the Grid in Preston County
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by Jim Sconyers, Chapter Chair | 2011

Two years "off the grid" and so far, so good for this West Virginian!

It has been two years since I started living “off the grid.” I thought I’d share some of that experience with my fellow West Virginia Sierrans.

A Little Background:
We bought land in Preston County in 1973 at an affordable $200 per acre. After several twists and turns in life, in 2007 I decided it was time to build. I was lucky to find both an affordable home builder and a competent energy designer. My builder was a local, very experienced guy with a catalog of plans to choose from, some of which he had created himself. I found an energy company called Bergey on the Internet and was surprised to find a certified dealer in, of all places, Thomas, WV, in Tucker County. This company, named PIMBY (for power in my back yard), is owned by Matt Sherald, who is knowledgeable, committed to energy innovation, and easy to work with. I asked PIMBY to design a system to supply 2000 kwh per year, about what I used at my old house.

The Electric System
Matt set to work and came up with a combined wind-solar system. The wind generator is rated 1 kilowatt, and the 6 solar panels total 1.2 kilowatts. This hybrid system works best because the wind is strongest during the winter, and the sun is strongest in the summer. A shed houses the high tech controls for the electrical system, as well as a bank of 16 batteries for “bad energy” times.

Off the Grid The windmill can be lowered for easy maintenance. Solar array and house are in the background.

The Experience...So Far
With a living space of about 1000 sq. ft., I don’t “do without” any of the basics of modern life. Washer (cold water always), dryer (propane, but I only use it to “air fluff”), well and pump (required a transformer to boost it), hot water (propane), oven/range (propane). Propane use has been about 300 gallons a year. Other differences compared to grid living: for telephone I’m all cell, but this is not very unusual today. And for Internet I had to install a satellite dish.

For fun, Matt installed an electric meter. I’ve been a little surprised to find that my annual usage of electricity runs about 1000 kwh. So the system as designed is more than adequate. Recently the battery system dropped to 60% over a 4-day run of bad energy. When the sun came out again it was back to 100% within about 3 hours. The system can be charged using a gas-powered generator, but I hope never to need one.

Sustainable Energy
For me, electricity is a renewable resource, so I use electrical devices more than you might. For example, I cook with my microwave whenever I can. And I heat primarily with the woodburner, partly because it reduces my carbon footprint, and also because I have my own wood to cut. A guestimate is 2 cords more or less a year.

The whole project — from grading raw land, putting in a long lane, all the construction, septic system, water well, kitchen appliances, steel roof, central heat, and of course the electric system — cost less than $200,000 in 2007. (Note that this does not include the cost of the land.)

I would be the first to agree that it’s not for everyone — but for me it has been fascinating!

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