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Living off the grid

Wextra: One couple who live near Musquodoboit are part of a small number of people who don't use Nova Scotia Power for their energy needs.

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Sue and Simon Melrose live in an extremely rural area of Nova Scotia, on a beautiful treed property with waterfront views near Musquodoboit Harbour, some 400 metres from the highway in a 1,500 square feet, one-and-a-half storey Cape Cod.

They’re one of the few people in the province not tied into the power network, provided by the folks at Nova Scotia Power. They are off the grid.

Simon Melrose had spent some of his childhood in a cottage in the south of England without electricity, and so the idea of not having a solid, reliable source of power didn’t strike fear into him the way it might in some.

The Melroses calculated the cost of bringing up electricity to their modest home, and figured it would be equitable to trying an alternative, independent power system.

They use a “hybrid system,” which runs the electricity and heating for their home off of photovoltaic solar panels (approximately 850 watts) along with a 1 kilowatt wind turbine, connected to a converter that adapts the electricity to be used for their household needs. A gauge and monitoring system measures the amount of power being produced, and from which source. They also use passive solar power, windows facing the sun, and active solar, hot water panels plugged into the in-floor heating system, combined with heat from a masonry wood heater.

A back-up generator is on standby for the few times where, for extended periods, there is no sun and no wind.

“We hardly ever have to use it,” says Melrose. He’s proud to say that it was exactly the same cost to install and set up his renewable energy source power system as it would have to connect to the grid, though he does concede that over the next 25 years there will be costs associated with the maintenance and replacement of parts, items that are not subsidized.

It’s not just that the Melroses are living off the grid, they make an effort to use less energy than the average home: instead of the average 30 kilowatt hours a day, they only use 4. If that’s the case, what are they living without?

“I’m looking around the house right now,” says Melrose on the phone from Musquodoboit Harbour. “And I see a dishwasher, microwave, washing machine, coffee maker, but no deep freeze.” The Melroses have been very diligent with their decision-making around energy, such as eliminating incandescent bulbs, choosing high efficiency appliances, and are “ruthless about turning things on and off.”

They have the internet, but it is dial-up over a “true land line.” The cable runs from the house across the land. “Squirrels were chewing on it, so now it’s in a pipe.”

Melrose suggests the lifestyle he and his wife lead is hardly radical, nor does it make them particularly fundamentalist about energy choices. “My message is, it’s much cheaper to reduce consumption.”

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