Off-Grid Power Proponents Produce Clean, Guerilla Energy

Indie-power rogues stick it to the utility companies


| March-April 2000



At the end of a gravel road, in the shadow of a mountain just outside a small Northern California town, a guerrilla war is going on. It’s a war of the people, its proponents like to say, and in the vanguard is Jim Rogers, an electrician.

Although Rogers is not his real name, he is in most ways a pretty average guy. Sure, he used to make a big deal about evading taxes. But these days even his guerrilla activities are low-profile. Still, the battle lines are clear and tensions are mounting.

Rogers’ cause is clean, renewable energy, and his enemies are monopolistic utilities that prevent individuals from integrating their solar panels and wind turbines with the grid. As he sees it, the power companies’ obstructionist policies and reluctance to take up the renewable resources torch have left him and thousands of others with no choice but to act. Even if it means going underground.

Rogers’ weapons include 18 photovoltaic solar panels, a 50-foot-high wind generator, and the electrical hardware required to rig a system capable of producing nearly 2,500 watts. That’s enough electricity to power his home 95 percent of the time. When his system doesn’t quite meet his needs—say, on winter’s darkest days—he uses the grid for backup, buying power from the utility. When it’s sunny or the wind is blowing briskly off the mountain, he produces more power than he needs and shoots his excess into the network. On those days Rogers takes great pleasure in watching the meter spin backward, knowing he is surreptitiously sharing his clean energy with others.

The utilities, which don’t like this kind of subversion one bit, are retaliating in the only way they can: by cutting people off. In one case, a power company in northern Oregon threatened to disconnect the user of a large wind generator who was feeding his excess power into its network. His response: “Go ahead.” Now his whole system is off the grid.

If it seems bizarre that people resort to subterfuge in order to share clean energy that, of course, is the guerrillas’ point. Hamming it up with the rhetoric of combat is their way of highlighting the irony. But even with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Rogers is serious about the cause. “I love being responsible for the energy I use,” he says. “I’m almost obsessed with it. If we’re going to keep living on this planet, we have to shift to cleaner sources of energy.”