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Storm No Problem For Houses "Off The Grid"

January 13, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - This winter's unusually cold weather has created snarls around the nation. Here in Appalachia, a fierce December storm knocked out power to nearly 400,000 people and cost more than $60 million to clean up. Not everyone lost electricity, however, because some weren't connected to the power grid in the first place.

Mary Wildfire lives with her husband in a house they built outside Spencer in Roane County. They run their lights, computers, appliances and the pump for their well on eight solar panels located in their front yard.

"Our immediate neighbors were out of power for a week; they got it back Christmas Eve. And we did really pretty well, because there were some partly sunny days."

She says the solar panels actually work better when it snows, because of the amount of light they get.

Wildfire admits that anyone who heats with wood or generates their own electricity loses a lot in terms of convenience. In her household, they have to pay attention to how much power they use and how much sun they get, but it's part of a lifestyle that has advantages, despite the trade-offs.

"We had to check whether we had wood in the shed, whether we were using too much power for how much light we'd gotten lately, but then to live on the grid we'd have to have, probably, full-time jobs."

Wildfire admits the system was expensive to install, at about $4,000 after tax breaks. But she says they're counting on it lasting for decades.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV