There is an article going around Facebook at the moment that got me to thinking. And by thinking, I mean thinking beyond the knee-jerk reaction, thinking beyond the surface to try to understand an issue that is more complex than it seems, as all issues are.
The first line of the article says, “It’s no secret that an opposition to sustainable living exists.” That’s what got me thinking. Why would there be an opposition to sustainable living? People would probably respond, “profits,” or “control,” but realistically, the economies of scale don’t support the idea that companies large enough to “oppose sustainable living” would care much about the few people who want to truly “go off the grid,” and in my experience, people who work for governments care less about controlling others than they do about getting reelected or keeping their jobs. I’m having a hard time finding real reasons for a concerted, coordinated effort to “oppose sustainable living.” I’m certainly open to evidence of such a thing, but for now, let’s look at the rest of the article.
Even though the article title mentions “electricity grid,” the homeowner discussed was told she had to connect her house to an “approved” water source, but not an electrical grid. Let’s think about both.
For water, well, there comes a time when a government is responsible for protecting people even from themselves. Just like they can condemn a house for crumbling to the point of danger to the occupants, the law can keep people from having unsafe sewage disposal, unhygienic trash storage, or unsafe water sources.
But let’s talk about electricity, because it’s a topic that interests me. Specifically, let’s talk about people wanting to detach themselves from the power grid to avoid the costs of the grid.
The closest I can come up with regarding electricity is electric companies not wanting to lose customers.
Normally I would agree on this. But living on the tiny island of Kauai, with 67,000 people and no way to tap into the power grid of anywhere else, I’ve learned some things about power generation costs and infrastructure maintenance. It’s a closed-system case study of dealing with power costs.
We have a diesel-burning power plant here, as well as some solar plants, that provide all of our power to all of our homes and businesses. There are 37,000 electricity customers. The island is just a little bit bigger than inside the I-465 loop around Indianapolis, which has 1 million+ people.
So the 37,000 power customers on Kauai have to share the costs of maintaining the infrastructure of an area the size of Indianapolis. When someone goes off the grid here, that’s one less customer to help cover the costs of maintenance. Yet that customer gets the benefits of surrounding businesses having power, police and fire departments having power, street lights, cell towers, television signals, etc. etc. Just because their house is not drawing power from the power plant does not mean that person is truly “off the grid.”
Additionally, pretty much every house that self-generates power is also attached to the grid for power when their system fails. For example, solar power batteries only hold so much power when it’s cloudy, and these customers begin to draw power from the grid when they need it.
So we have a set monthly fee for every residence, and a much higher monthly fee for every business, whether they are “on the grid” or not. It’s like taxes – it’s one of the responsibilities of being part of a community.
Nobody is prevented from going off the grid. They can move to Montana and live in the woods. But being off the grid in a city is a whole different animal that involves community responsibility. It’s literally the same as when people complain about taxes while taking advantage of all the benefits of public expenditures. On the surface, the complaints make sense, but the issue is more complex.