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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Listeners Who Walk Their Walk

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood talks with a listener in northern California who goes out of his way to put his environmental values to the test by living off the electricity grid and supplying his own lower impact power.


CURWOOD: It's easy to turn off the light when you leave the room, lower the heat in your house, take other transportation aside from your car to work, all simple ways to save energy. But some people are willing and able to go further. On the line with me now is Bill Battigen; he lives just outside of Taylorsville, that's a tiny town in northeast California. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Battigen had the local power company come to his house and disconnect the power supply. Did they just come in and clip the wires from your house, Mr. Battigen?

BATTIGEN: Well, yeah, they did. They came in and climbed up the tower, disconnected the wires up there and then snipped the wires at the house and they were gone.

CURWOOD: But that hasn't left you in the dark.

BATTIGEN: Not at all. We have plenty of power here at the house. We have a lot of solar electric panels here and batteries to store up the power.

CURWOOD: Well how many panels do you have now?

BATTIGEN: We have 13 panels here.

CURWOOD: And how long ago did you start with that first one?

BATTIGEN: That was about 10 years ago.

CURWOOD: So why did it take so long for you to disconnect yourself from the grid?

BATTIGEN: Partly I wasn't sure just how far I wanted to get into this myself, and also monetary reasons. Each panel costs very approximately $350 to $400. And to do that all at one time, especially back then, would have been unheard of for my income.

CURWOOD: How about your neighbors? Do they mind if your house looks a little bit like Ice Station Zebra or Moon Station or something?

BATTIGEN: Well, we live in an area where the trees are 50 to 100 feet tall, so none of the solar electric panels are on the house. Three of them are on the tree and the rest of them are on a tower that is just about even with the treetops around here. If you were, say, on the order of 200 or 300 feet away from the house, it's very hard to spot them because of the trees.

CURWOOD: How has this changed your lifestyle, living off the grid?

BATTIGEN: Well, the first thought that comes to my mind is the word appreciation.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

BATTIGEN: You sure as heck know where your power comes from, watching the meter go up as the sun shines brighter, or a cloud goes in front of it watch the meter drop. You really get a sense of direct connection there, you know. It doesn't bother me to have a limit to my consumption.

CURWOOD: So, for instance, what do you do that's a little different from those of us who are connected to the grid?

BATTIGEN: Oh, things like you want to use power mostly when it's available. In other words, if we waited until the sun set and then immediately fired up the vacuum cleaner and washing machine and whatever else in the house that we could have done during the day, then we wouldn't have, you know, been able to take advantage of that power. Whereas if we did those chores that consumed electricity at say 10 or 11 in the morning, then we would still get recharged by the end of the day and not have to draw the batteries down that night as much.

CURWOOD: Do you recommend this to other people?

BATTIGEN: Well, sure, if other people think that this is a nice planet to live on. I recommend it to everybody.

CURWOOD: Well, Mr. Battigen, thank you so much for taking this time with us.

BATTIGEN: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Bill Battigen lives near Taylorsville, California.



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