Accidentally Off The Grid - Bob Dunn Photography
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Accidentally Off The Grid

I’ve explored the idea of installing solar panels on this damn old house, as it has a great roof for it, oriented south. All I’d have to do is take down one pecan tree growing up through the middle of the driveway. But it doesn’t make economic sense, not even if electricity from The Man was twice the price per kilowatt, probably. The last time I ran the numbers, it looked like it would take 30 years before I’d recoup the up-front cost of buying and installing the system. And if I’ve got 30 years left, I’m not so sure I want to spend the rest of it on the One Acre Ranch. There’s at least one innovative solar company out there that will let you make a down payment and then finance the rest for you, but when you figure out your monthly electric bill doing things their way, it is significantly higher than what we’re paying now per kilowatt. And with natural gas prices not threatening to go up, demand down and the need for saving as much cash as possible constant in this recession, solar does not make economic sense for us.

But, unbeknownst to you, I digress.

This was supposed to be about how, with just about no winds at all and under clear skies, not a bolt of lightening for half a state in either direction, the power went out last night for just over an hour. I’m used to the power going out at the drop of a summer thunderstorm, what with the archaic grid CenterPoint Energy maintains in our area.

It was stranger than power outages are ordinarily to have it happen in winter, and stranger still when I learned that 3,000 customers were out and not just our 90-home neighborhood. And, our mild winters notwithstanding, the mercury was at 38 and headed down to the 20s, so no power was not good, because, ironically, it is required to keep the gas furnace on.

Every small household emergency is, I think, an opportunity to gauge one’s ability to function well in a real emergency.

I’m afraid this time I got a C-. I could only find one of the two emergency flashlights. The one I found was starting to lose headlamp power, although I did have emergency batteries. The candles were where they’re supposed to be, but the candlesticks were scattered all over the house from the last outage. I was cross with the little girl, because she insisted on acting like a little girl at one point. The handle kept falling off of the kerosene heater I’d bought a couple of months ago at Home Depot because it was poorly designed crap from China. I didn’t bother to use a funnel, and spilled kerosene in the driveway, and had I actually had to haul the heater inside, it would’ve made a mess because I didn’t clean off the bottom before filling it with fuel.

The kerosene heater is allegedly safe for indoor use, but the burner is tricky, and if you don’t get the flame adjusted just right, it smokes some. Plus you have to keep readjusting the flame about every half hour, which is not real handy. Plus the thing is supposed to burn for up to 12 hours, but in reality only lasts about 8 and a half.

My plan was that if the house started getting cold, I would only use the kerosene heater as a last resort. First, I would’ve dragged the big generator out of the garage on its flat tires that can’t be reinflated (yeah, Chinese design, been meaning to get some of those solid unflattenable tires they sell at Tractor Supply). Then I would’ve run extension cords to the room of our choice, probably the extra bedroom upstairs with the big TV. Then I would’ve hooked up one of our big electric heaters and the TV and Wii system so we could use gasoline power to finish watching old episodes of The Tick without having to wait for CenterPoint to weld their chickenwire grid back together again.

You have to have priorities. Isn’t this how we work to make a greener planet?

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