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BY CHRISTOPHER BATIN
I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient sages of Eastern philosophy who gave special reverence to the elemental properties of sun, wind and fire.
These powers are indeed special, especially when it comes to powering an Alaska homestead.
Many of us have homes in remote locations or perhaps are planning a retirement hunting or fishing cabin where the traditional way of powering a home — being connected to the grid — is not feasible.
Several years ago when my wife, Deb, and I began building the BatinWoods homestead, we needed power and it was apparent the electric company was seeing nothing but dollar signs. They told us they could run a line back to our place from the main road for about $100,000. And that was if they didn’t run into any problems going through two marshes, not to mention the mountain foothill we chose for the home site.
We opted for sun, wind and fire, and never looked back.
During Alaska summers, I watch our 12-array solar panel track the midnight sun around its circular route from west to northeast, converting sunlight into power well into the wee hours of the morning. The charging gauge pegs out to maximum charge even if I simultaneously turn on the dishwasher, run the washer and dryer, and vacuum the carpet. I rarely have to start the generator, and if I do, it’s usually after a week of heavy rain or cloud cover, and even then, it’s only on for a couple hours.
If there is a slight breeze during the hours of darkness, the wind generator is charging our battery bank. I can always tell when the wind is blowing over 20 mph because of the wooshing sound of the blades. At times, the propellers get going so fast the blades go into safety mode and tilt horizontally, like helicopter blades. Plus there is an electric brake in case of typhoon-strength winds that would vibrate the wind generator to shreds. Otherwise, it’s as quiet as a whisper.
The 800-pound battery bank and inverter share a small shed near the house with the 9-kilowatt Northern Lights generator. Sure, there is some maintenance, such as keeping the battery levels full or equalizing them every month, but it’s a small price to pay knowing the electric company doesn’t have a stranglehold over me. If I was connected to the grid, I’d be selling power back to the utility, which is an amusing thought. But it’s like revenge: best buried and not acted out. Plus, it’s a hoot to watch the battery charge meter peg to full, knowing I’m not burning fossil fuels at that moment and instead utilizing the sun’s energy and wind power.
Deb and I purchased BatinWoods because of its isolation, but because of my business dealings, we are connected to the road system. In about an hour, I can be driving through Wasilla on my way to Anchorage, waving at the tourists looking at Sarah Palin’s house on the lake. Yet, from our front deck, we can see Denali in all its glory, 60 miles away, and not have our solitude shattered by barking dogs, the sound of traffic, or a generator starting up every couple hours.
You may be wondering about how the Internet fits into this overview. Well, in this modern age, it’s as necessary as the basic elements. Even in our remote location, I stay in touch with the world through satellite Internet. I can send stories to New York, make business deals in China, and read my email and news online each morning like most everyone else and at roughly the same price that others in Alaska are paying for wireless service. HughesNet installs a satellite dish and while the speed isn’t as fast as high-speed cable, it’s fast enough for my needs, especially when compared to some DSL lines I’ve had to use. And of course, we get cell phone reception in our location on the hillside even though there are dead spots in the surrounding areas.
While there are many sources of green heat, we opted for the most basic because of the myriad stockpiles of firewood around us. I use wood to heat the main living area and efficient oil–burning Toyo and Monitor stoves for heating the guest cabin and garage. We also have two Toyos in the house as back-ups, just in case we get a cold snap of 50 below zero, which is rare. We go through about 250 gallons of fuel a year and that includes generator use, which is quite economical. I remember going through that much in one month
when living in the city.
Plus, the biggest benefit of green power is it allows us to live the lifestyle we’ve all dreamed about — away from it all, in solitude, where you can hunt or fish right in your backyard, because as outdoor writers, this is what we do. And from the doomsday side of things, we are totally self-sufficient for at least a couple years, should the economy take a major nosedive or bioterrorism affect the way of life as we know it.
So, if you have a hunting or fishing cabin or if you’re planning your retirement home in the outback and want to place your money in something better than the 1 percent return from bank securities, try investing in the other “green.” Not only will you get a better rate of return, tax credits and more, but you’ll also be surprised at how moose, bears and other critters come right up to your home, without the noise of generators or fuel-hungry furnaces. It’s one small footprint I don’t mind leaving. ♦
—Chris Batin is a 38-year resident of Alaska. When he is not hunting moose, salmon fishing or growing giant lupine on his property, he runs several businesses on “green power” from his BatinWoods homestead. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.