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Off the grid

By Kelsey Rowlson

Kelly Kinkade, who works in Whatcom Community College’s mail services department, lives off the electrical grid. In other words, he doesn’t depend on a power company to supply electricity.  In the 1990s Kinkade and his wife bought property in Whatcom County to build their house on.  The property did not have access to power.

“We lived for two years in a trailer while I built the house,” Kinkade said. “We had no electricity, no lights except flashlights & rechargeable lanterns, no running water, and often no heat.” Eventually Kinkade did acquire a propane heater.

If that wasn’t enough of a feat, Kinkade built his house himself with only hand tools, no power tools.  He and his wife also pumped their own water and supplied their own heat by installing a wood stove.

“It is one of life’s ironies that I grew up reading science fiction and dreaming of robots, jet packs, talking computers and flying cars,” said Kinkade, “yet now in my adult years I seem to be retreating into a dream of the Amish, Luddites, and the 1800s.”

Increasingly, residents of Washington are seeking effective ways to conserve energy. The issue of alternative energy sources has been on the minds of many members of the Bellingham community with the recent and ongoing debate raging over the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Wash. Washington is considered by many to be one of the nation’s cleanest and “greenest” states, but even so, Kinkade is living ahead of the curve.

Today, he has evolved with the technology.  “I use solar electric panels to produce electricity that is stored in batteries,” he said.  “These batteries power the lights, appliances, and a freezer in my house.  I have a wood cook stove for heating the house, cooking, and producing hot water; I also use solar hot water panels for heating water.  The house is also partially heated by passive solar.”

In the winter, when the sun isn’t shining, Kinkade plans to use a home-built pedal generator to supplement the electricity in batteries.

This isn’t off the grid enough for Kinkade though, as he and his wife are working to produce more of their own food and disconnect from the industrial food system.  “My current goal would be to produce 50 percent of our food, but we have not come even close at this time,” he said.

So why does he do it?  Kinkade believes that although computers and the Internet can be very useful tools, they are mostly used for amusement or frivolous activities.

“I have a love-hate relationship with computers and the Internet,” he said.  “I know that I am susceptible to these and so I try to limit my exposure/screen time.  Facebook & social media have created a new ‘grid’ that allows strangers to invade your privacy, steal your identity, or stalk you.  It is also being used by marketers and the government to profile the population and make us easier to predict and manipulate.”


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