Get off the grid Blue Ridge

• Installment #1 for the Fannin Sentinel •

Get Off the Grid Blue Ridge–a biweekly column that provides information on how you can get off the grid to achieve energy independence and conserve re­sources

Get Off the Grid Blue Ridge has a two-fold purpose. First, it provides information and advice, a forum of sorts intending to link people who have expertise and know how with solar power and other renewable energy systems to those within the paper’s read­ership who have the interest and commitment to achieve some measure of energy self-sufficien­cy. Second, the column intends to promote The Get Off the Grid Solar Expo and Sustainability Fair–an event scheduled to take place in the Blue Ridge area the weekend of Aug. 18-20, just be­fore next year’s total eclipse of the sun.

In the coming weeks, the col­umn will cover topics related to the nuts and bolts of solar instal­lations (not too technical), as­pects and experiences of living off grid, practical tips for energy and cost savings, as well as cre­ative solutions to maintenance is­sues. Along the way we will meet with people in the area who are working towards self-sufficiency in a number of areas and have ex­periences of their own to relate.

But first, and by way of intro­duction, an explanation as to my connection with Blue Ridge.

It was about five years ago that my wife and I began to build a house and cleared a site on land in the southern part of Fannin County that had been in the fam­ily since the early 1970s. We had visited the area and made use of the land for camp-outs, reunions and other gatherings for decades, but something called us to pull up the stakes from our Atlanta neighborhood and to make a new start in Blue Ridge. It wasn’t that we were unhappy in the city–we lived in a sweet little house, had great neighbors and friends, good schools for our daughters and jobs we liked. Yet, we were taken with the notion of living in a way that was more self-reliant, closer to the source of our food, our place of work and play–with maybe even more time to appre­ciate our friends, our surround­ings and each other.

Our decision to create an off-grid dwelling was therefore not motivated by fear of a collapse of civil society, nuclear holocaust or environmental disaster that would make our world unlivable but rather a desire to have more of a hand and say in the mak­ing of our own power, food and material needs. A strong sense of living in a way that did not waste energy and resources, foul our nest, or compromise the ability of our children and others to live quality lives guided us in our de­cisions as well.

As we began living more or less full time in Blue Ridge, one of the first things we noticed about the town is that people here are generous with their time. Driving around bumpy dirt roads in our old city cars meant that we broke down a lot. We were amazed by how many folks would stop quickly and offer to help.

Another discovery we made came about in conversations with people about our building project and how many folks were active­ly or interested in living off grid. What we have learned through our experience is that being off grid whether it’s through solar power or other renewable energy or heating with wood, bio-fuels or geo-thermal construction is that it is not about being isolated or shut off from the rest of the world.

To the contrary, sustaining an off the grid life style is all about connecting with neighbors, busi­nesses, sharing information, ex­periences and skills and just plain helping each other out. Sort of the way I thought it used to work–and maybe still does in places like Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Next installment: Solar Power–the nuts and bolts.

-Bill Fleming