Energy interdependence

After 14 years of living off the grid and being energy independent, all the while refining and improving her system, Risa Buck found that the technology had advanced to the point that she could now consider hooking up to the City of Ashland's aggressive grid-intertie buyback program. Something that was not an option at the outset. Buck could now sell back to the city the electricity she generated but did not use at the same rate the city sells it.

The Trojan deep-cycle batteries (and the replacement batteries which followed) that were part of Buck's system had a finite storage capacity necessitating a frugal and vigilant use of the energy available.

"The City of Ashland promotes the installation of locally generated renewable solar, wind, fuel cell and hydro sources of electricity," wrote Larry Giardina, Conservation Analyst for Ashland, in an e-mail to the Tidings. "We enable customers to interconnect those sources with our electrical distribution grid. The City will install equipment to net meter electricity a customer delivers to the grid from those sources and purchase up to 1,000 kWh per month at the customer's highest retail rate plus their electrical users tax and purchase additional kWh at the City's wholesale rates."

Buck decided she had had well over a decade of being parsimonious with her electric needs.

"I wanted to maximize the potential with the extra electricity generated," she said. "One can only do that by being hooked up to the grid."

Instead of looking just at her house, she considered the entire footprint of the property &

three buildings with two households &

with the intention of creating a situation wherein the electrical use of the property was offset by the amount of electricity generated on the property.

Hooking up to the grid-tied system would also eliminate the concerns created by using the batteries: if depleted, or when they reach the end of their useful life, they would have to be replaced at considerable cost. From the glass is half empty department, once hooked up to the grid, the households would be subject to interruptions of service when the grid went down, which was not the case being off-grid.

"We enjoyed the times when the system went down and we didn't know it until the next day. That is what being energy independent is all about," said Buck.

In 2006 she installed, with business energy tax credits, a 2.38 kW Photovoltaic (PV) system on the original front house. In April, she put up a 4.68 kW PV system on the straw bale studio and then brought the grid to all three structures. Once the City signed off on her installations, a two-way metering was hooked up which shows how many kilowatts of electricity Buck would purchase and how much would be sold. She estimates that she is selling 10 times what she is purchasing and thereby accumulating credits. "My hope is that we will generate enough credits during spring and summer and fall to get us through the winter without having to pay any extra. If we balance out then I would say 'mission accomplished' for zero net electric use."

Buck acknowledges that not everyone can make the kind of commitment she has made regarding energy use.

"People should do what speaks to them," she said. "Only then will changes truly come about. You don't have to build a special building. Everyone can adopt small or large behaviors that will allow us to achieve some of the goals of using energy more efficiently."

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