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Off the grid

An Oklahoma City couple demonstrates a life of sustainability.

Clifton Adcock December 7th, 2011

Bruce Johnson and Barbara Hagen expected about 15 people to attend their presentation on living “off the grid.” Instead, more than 100 people packed into the room at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City’s Agricultural Resource Center.

Scheduled to last an hour, the Dec. 1 event stretched close to double that, as dozens of audience members asked questions and shared ideas.

“This is probably the biggest group we’ve ever talked to,” Johnson said. “I’m amazed. I’m overwhelmed.”

Johnson and Hagen, married since 1987, reside on acreage northeast of Oklahoma City. They call it the Homestead School — not because they feel like they’re teachers, but because of what they’ve learned from their home.

The couple use old and new technology to live “off the grid.” They grow much of their own food, generate their own electricity, provide their own heating, pump and purify their own water, and use as little fossil fuel and externally generated energy as possible.

right, Bruce Johnson, outside Homestead School

While a gallon of gasoline generates about 36 kilowatt hours worth of electricity, Johnson said, his home operates on about one kilowatt hour per day.

Both said they actually produce very little electricity, but what they do make comes mostly from solar energy, backed up by a wind turbine. Much of what they do — water heating, cooking and natural lighting — requires little to no electricity.

High efficiency
Even if one is not living completely off the grid, using high-efficiency practices — such as hanging clothes out to dry, rather than using a dryer — is an enormous step toward reducing electrical consumption, Johnson said.

“A thousand people with clotheslines are going to make a lot more difference than 100 people with a windmill,” Johnson said.

In addition, he and Hagen use hand tools for gardening and yard care, such as a hand scythe for mowing and trimming.

One audience member commented that using such implements would be pretty hard work.

“It is hard work,” Johnson replied. “But some people go to the gym for exercise.”

The couple’s presentation was sponsored by the Oklahoma City Department of Sustainability, the U.S. Green Building Council and OSU-OKC School of Engineering Technology.

Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability director Jennifer Gooden said the department has a green low-interest home loan program administered by the Community Action Agency.

The large turnout for last week’s presentation, she said, demonstrates the growing interest for sustainability issues.

“A lot of it is a matter of people are curious,” said Gooden, “They want to know. And if we can help make these things happen by just providing education, then that’s wonderful.”

Photos by Mark Hancock
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12.08.2011 at 01:22 Reply

By default I am very pro-renewable energy, but the pictures in their piece tend to highlight why so many people don't seek these technologies.  It's because they believe they are an eyesore.  

Renewables do not have to be ugly like this.  There are companies who offer solar leases which when accounting for how much you cut from your bills vs the cost of the lease, the customer still comes out on top.  And such installations don't have to appear as tactless as what is seen in these pictures.

Also, windturbines do not have to follow the stare-at-the-wind design that seems emblematic of typical wind farms.  Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT's) will spin regardless of what direction the wind is flowing, and because of their design they appear as solid to birds which will definitely please your avian neighbors whom would otherwise suffer an undeserved fate around standard wind turbines.  VAWT's aren't cheap, and space is still an important factor.  But in a state where the wind comes sweeping down the plains it seems silly to ignore the benefits of wind.  Expecially if you have the money to exploit an abundant and free resource.