Frustrated with utilities, some Californians are leaving the grid

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Frustrated with utilities, some Californians are leaving the grid

The appeal of off-grid homes has grown partly because utilities have become less reliable. As natural disasters linked to climate change have increased, there have been more extended blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and other states.

Californians are also worried that electricity rates are rising and state policymakers have proposed reducing incentives for installing solar panels on grid-connected homes. Off-grid solar and battery systems are expensive to install, but once the system is up and running, they generally require minor maintenance and homeowners no longer have an electric bill.

RMI, a research organization formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, estimates that by 2031 the majority of California homeowners will save money by going off the grid as solar and battery costs decline and utility rates rise. The group estimates that this phenomenon will increase rapidly in the coming decades in areas with less sunlight, such as the Northeast.

The state’s residents tend to be early adopters, said David Hochschild, president of the California Energy Commission, a regulatory agency, noting that a former governor, Jerry Brown, also lives in an off-grid home. But Mr Hochschild said he did not agree that such an approach matters to most people. “We build 100,000 new homes a year in California, and I think 99.99 percent of them are grid-connected,” he said.

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Some energy experts worry that those going off the grid may inadvertently harm efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is because the excess electricity generated from rooftop solar panels will no longer reach the grid, where it can replace electricity from coal or natural gas plants. “We don’t have to cut the cord and go it alone,” said Mark Dyson, senior principal at RMI’s carbon-free power unit.

Pepe Cansino moved from Santa Monica to Nevada County in 2020 after he and his wife, Diane, lost their jobs during the pandemic. He bought five acres of land with spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains. Mr Cansino, 42, a former home health care worker, picked up a chain saw and an ax and began learning how to build a house and generate his own power.

When they finish their two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home this fall, the family, including their 15-year-old daughter, will generate electricity and use a well for water.

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