Sunday, 17 April 2011

Wiping the grid off your place

Why Off-Grid?

When we purchased our 8 acres of beautiful farmland, the first thing we had to consider was running services to our new house site. This is a perfectly standard process for new homes in our area. Even in our previous neighbourhood, far closer to Greytown itself, independent tank water and a septic tank were essential for new builds.
As far as electricity is concerned, power lines run right to the end of our road, but connecting to them presented some difficulties.

Our nearest transformer, with which we would connect to the national grid, required an upgrade for us to be able to access it. This upgrade was quoted at $4640 plus GST. I say ‘nearest’ transformer, as it was still a little way down the road from our property entrance, and just to run cabling that far was going to cost us another $7988 plus GST.
To actually run the cabling the remaining 150 (approx) metres to our actual house site was going to cost somewhere between $7-10,000 plus GST.
This might seem to fair price to pay for living where we want to, with all mod cons, but the final sticking point was this: the expensive transformer upgrade which we would pay for would then allow a couple of neighbouring blocks to connect to it, at no cost to themselves. As much as we are very happy to help neighbours out where-ever we can , this was a step too far, as was even contemplating trying to share costs with these future new arrivals.

The other alternative was to buy our own transformer, which could then be positioned closer to our entrance way. This would cost us $8188 plus GST, plus $1800 to run cabling to our gate, and then the same cost as in the first scenario to continue on to our house site.
Very expensive, but that wasn’t the worst part. Our transformer, which we were expected to pay for, would actually still be owned by Powerco and our future neighbours could still connect to it at no cost to themselves.

By this stage you might be starting to see why connecting to the national grid was losing it’s appeal. In both cases we would be spending upwards of $18000 dollars for the privilege of paying a power bill every month. Even worse, Powerco’s justification for still owning the transformer which we would have to pay for - that they would maintain it when necessary – is no longer a certainty. As of 2013, power companies will no longer be obliged to service lines which are less profitable for their organisations, and that means rural areas with scant density of houses as opposed to a typically well populated suburb.
So we could have actually ended up not only paying for a transformer, but the continual upkeep of it and lines which we will never actually own. Oh, and paying actual power usage, of course.

We had already decided to build an ecologically responsible house, now producing our own clean, independent energy began to seem like a logical extension of this. The quote for installing a solar powered energy system, using solar panels and photo-voltaic batteries came in at almost twice what the conventional national grid solution had, but this barely made us flinch. Although initially much more expensive, not having to pay increasingly outrageous power bills to profit-driven, overseas owned suppliers will mean that eventually our own, sustainable system will pay for itself. It will also mean shift in our attitude towards power usage, but this can only be a good thing – and it’s likely to be an attitude which is already well-ingrained by the time we leave our generator-driven tin box!

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