Those opting for an off-grid lifestyle free of municipal utilities and utility bills are facing strong opposition to their sustainable lifestyle.
Failure to connect one’s home to a municipal water line or electric grid can result in the lawful eviction of a homeowner or an early-morning visit from a fully-armed SWAT team in parts of the United States where living off the grid is considered illegal.
Though living off the grid sounds like a disappearing act to some, for many, living off the grid is simply a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle in which one unplugs from the power grid and generates their own power and water and disposes of their own waste.
As national radio talk show host George Noory describes it, living off the grid is “about being more self-reliant and being less dependent on the system. Perhaps realizing that the system isn’t really protecting us anymore and we have to look after ourselves.”
The outcome is that not all government officials are thrilled that some Americans have taken it upon themselves to not only reduce their power bill, but their carbon footprint, as well.
Off the grid in Florida
Robin Speronis, a resident of Cape Coral, Fla., is facing eviction from her home after city officials deemed it was unsanitary and unsafe to live in the property, which is not connected to any utilities. According to local news reports, city officials argue that Speronis, a widow and former real estate agent, violated “the International Property Maintenance Code,” which requires properties to have electricity and running water.
Since Speronis’ home isn’t connected to city-owned and -maintained utilities, officials argue that she is in violation of this clause. Ironically, Speronis has running water and electricity, which she gets from sustainable sources. For example, her water for drinking, bathing and cooking comes from collected rainwater that she disinfects before using, and her electricity is supplied by solar panels. In total, Speronis said it costs her about $20 a week to live.
Though city officials have reportedly never been in Speronis’ home, and were only alerted to her off-grid lifestyle after a local news station interviewed her, they maintain that Speronis needs to connect to the city’s water system, even if she doesn’t use it.
A Florida court agreed. In February, the court gave Speronis until March 31 to connect to the city’s water supply or have an alternate water source approved by the city. If she fails to comply, she will be evicted from her “uninhabitable” home.
Speronis, however, is fighting back and wants to continue her self-sufficient lifestyle that she began after her husband’s death as a result of his long battle with a muscular degenerative disease.
Talking to Off the Grid News, Speronis explained what attracted her to this type of living.
“It was an interest in empowering myself, like we did when we got off the health care system,” she said. “I wanted to look at every other part of my lifestyle and say, do I need this? Is this of value to me? If it went away tomorrow, what would I do? The more I got into it, the more exciting, the more of an adventure it became.”
If Speronis wins her case, it will be a huge victory for the off-grid community. But as Arjun Walia stated in a post on Collective-evolution.com, “The only problem with off the grid living is that corporations lose their ability to control others,” which means there will be likely a lot of pressure and money thrown at city officials to keep them from allowing residents to lead this kind of sustainable lifestyle.
“With a completely self-sustaining life style (sic), no body (sic) would ever have to work,” Walia said. “What would happen then? Think about that for a moment. We would be free to expand and create, to discover our full potential as a race and move forward into the world of exploration and discovery, all the while living in harmony with nature, not against it.”
He further explained, “We’ve accepted the monetary system, and deem it necessary for the proper function of society.”
But, he noted, “Money doesn’t ever have to come in the way of necessity, we’ve just been made to believe that it does. It’s time for the human race to move past the concepts of competition and greed into one that benefits the whole.”
Fear of the ‘bandwagon’ effect
In Speronis’ case, she said that city officials ignored her decision to disconnect her home from all utilities until she went public and discussed her sustainable lifestyle with a local reporter. The day after the interview aired, she said she received her eviction notice, prompting some to wonder if officials only tolerate this kind of lifestyle as long as only a few people take part.
Like Speronis, Quinn Eaker and his fellow residents of the Garden of Eden sustainable community in Arlington, Texas, experienced trouble for their off-grid lifestyle in 2013 after their way of life became highly publicized.
Though Eaker said he and his fellow community members had lived off the grid on their 3.5 acres of land since 2009, and provided food, shelter and free sustainability education classes and workshops to the public, he said local officials suddenly became very interested in their activities after local interest in sustainability increased.
One day in July 2013, Eaker said he and other members were awoken by a SWAT raid on their property around 7:30 a.m. Law enforcement reportedly claimed there was a “full fledged marijuana growth and trafficking operation” occurring on the property and destroyed wild and cultivated plants on the property searching for drugs.
Neither marijuana nor any other drug was found on the property, but Eaker was arrested because he had an outstanding traffic ticket. He and landowner Shellie Smith argued that because they owned the land and were not harming anyone or anything, they should have the right to live as they see fit on their property. City officials argued that the property exhibited several code compliance violations such as the grass being too tall and things being stored in the yard.
In response, Smith said she and her fellow community members were “targeted by the system because we are showing people how to live without it.”
“We are growing more than just tomatoes here,” she said, “we are growing the consciousness that will allow people to live freely and sustainably, and the system doesn’t want that to be known.”
In addition to Texas and Florida, those living off the grid in other states such as California, Utah, Oregon and Iowa have started to wonder if those who opt to live a sustainable lifestyle are intentionally targeted by government officials at the request of energy companies concerned about their bottom lines.
After all, a study published this past January by Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia found that renewable energy is monetarily cheaper to produce than traditional energy sources like fossil fuel.
In other words, even without factoring in how much of an environmental cost traditional energy carries compared to wind energy, BNEF found that wind energy is 14 percent cheaper to produce than coal and 18 percent cheaper than gas.
“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date,” said Michael Liebreich, CEO of BNEF. “The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head.”
In December, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced that it would work to prevent individual homeowners from installing sustainable energy features in their homes such as solar panels, banning oversight on fracking, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, and generally weakening clean energy regulations and initiatives by the Environmental Protection Agency.
John Eick, legislative analyst for ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture program, told the Guardian that the conservative group wanted to “lower the rate electricity companies pay homeowners for direct power generation – and maybe even charge homeowners for feeding power into the grid.”
“As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system,” he explained.
Charging a homeowner for using solar panels may sound misguided and illogical, but for Arizona residents, it is a reality. In November, the state became the first in the nation to charge an average of $5 per month per home to install solar panels. According to the Guardian, the electricity companies in the state were lobbying for fees closer to $100 per month, but so far, they have been unsuccessful in this regard.
Whether similar laws will be implemented in other states remains to be seen. As Gabe Elsner, director of the Energy and Policy Institute, explained, ALEC sponsored at least 77 anti-renewable energy bills in 34 states in 2012.
“They are trying to eliminate pro-solar policies in the states to protect utility industry profits,” said Elsner.