Frustrated With Utilities, Some Californians Are Leaving the Grid

The appeal of off-grid homes has increased in part because utilities have become less reliable. As natural disasters associated with climate change increase, more widespread blackouts are seen in California, Texas, Louisiana, and other states.

The people of California are also upset that electricity rates continue to rise and state policymakers have proposed reducing incentives to install solar panels on grid-connected homes. Installing off-grid solar and battery systems is expensive, but once the systems are turned on, they usually require modest maintenance and homeowners no longer have an electric bill.

RMI, a research institute formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, predicts that by 2031, most California homeowners will save money by going off the grid as solar and battery costs go down and utility rates rise. That phenomenon will be more pronounced in less sunny regions, such as the Northeast, in the coming decades, the group predicts.

David Hoschchild, chairman of the California Energy Commission, a regulatory agency, said residents of the state tend to adopt early adopters, noting that former governor Jerry Brown also lives in an off-grid home. But Mr. Hochchild added that he was not convinced that such an approach would make sense to most people. “We build 100,000 new homes each year in California, and I guess 99.99 percent of them are connected to the grid,” he said.

Some energy experts worry that people who are going off the grid could inadvertently harm efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is because the extra electricity generated by roof solar panels will no longer reach the grid, where it can convert power from coal or natural gas plants. “We don’t have to cut the ropes and go it alone,” said Mark Dias, senior principal with RMI’s carbon-free electricity unit.

He and his wife, Diane, lost their jobs during the epidemic after Pepe Cansino moved from Santa Monica to Nevada County in 2020. They bought five acres of land with spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains. Mr. Cansino, 42, a former home health care worker, picked up a chain saw and ax and began learning how to build a home and build his strength.

When they complete their two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home this fall, the family, including their 15-year-old daughter, will generate electricity and use a well for water.

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