Florida woman evicted for off-grid living, while QLD utilities move to encourage it

A Florida woman was served orders to vacate her own home for not being to connected to water or electricity mains, according to OffTheGridNews. The woman, Ms Robin Speronis, made the decision to live as self-sufficiently as possible off the grid after her husband died, relying on solar panels for her electricity and rain for her water needs. Having no refrigerator, she subsists on a diet comprised mainly of nonperishable and canned foods, cooking for herself on a camp stove.

Her ejection from her home was instigated when her story was picked up and featured on a local Florida news channel. The piece pointed out that her living situation was likely out of sync with codes and therefore illegal. It was the day after the piece that that city code enforcement officials showed up on her doorstep. The official reason given as to why her home was deemed to be ‘uninhabitable’ was its failure to comply with the International Property Maintenance Code.

A follow-up article by Fox4 on Ms Speronis’ predicament is no longer available on their site (dead link), but copies of its text still exist on websites like the Building Codes Forum:

A Cape Coral code enforcement officer posted a “notice to vacate” one day after our story aired.

“Putting a woman who lives by herself, who is a widow, out on the street without any due process of law is unfathomable,” says the outgraged homeowner.

The notice cites international property maintenance code and states the property is unsafe to be lived in, but Robin wonders how code enforcement would know without ever having been inside the home.

The city code compliance manager tells [Fox 4 News] he tagged the home because it doesn’t have running water or electrcity, although neither modern comfort is mentioned as a requirement in the code cited by the city on the notice.

While Robin won’t say whether she’s been living in the home since the notice was posted, she does say the city is overreaching and threatening to take away her home — which she owns free and clear with taxes up to date.

Ms Speronis’ story is clearly a provocative one, and testament to this is the fact that it has been picked up in numerous media outlets and blogs. At the core: How could the government force someone to rely on public services, provided they have found a way to meet their needs without them? While unquestionably ubiquitous in modern life, mains water and grid electricity are nevertheless conveniences. As her home was apparently still connected to city sewer lines (until the city ‘capped’ them), sanitation was not the issue (and even then, there are other ways to sanitarily deal with human waste).

For Ms Speronis, the decision to live off-grid is couched in an ideology of self-sufficiency; but it is also about rejecting pressure to be connected to the grid and the systems it is associated with. Although relatively high-profile, she is not alone in her thinking and lifestyle. The existence of sites like OffTheGridNews.com it testament to the United States’ growing self-reliance movement.

Although half a world away, there’s a common strain between Ms Speronis’ story and the stories of many of the Australians who have chosen to install solar panels in Australia. When it comes to going solar in Australia, talk of going ‘off-grid’ is inspired not only by high electricity prices but also by a growing resentment towards utilities–especially among solar system owners. A particular bone of contention amongst Australia’s many solar homes (and would-be solar homes) is the fact that utilities are not required to purchase excess solar power at market rates–and in many cases are allowed to set whatever solar feed-in tariff rate they feel is appropriate. It’s usually not much. (One recent comment on this site: “How can age pensioners pay 4000 for solar and only get 8 cents back yet they [the utilities] charge top dollars and give us bugger all?”)

All the while solar power prices are coming down, making the prospect of living off-grid (at least in terms of electricity) tantalizingly close to attainability. In fact, with appropriate system sizing and energy use planning (plus energy storage), it’s nearly possible to be energy self-sufficient even when still connected to the grid. And for anyone who owns a solar system but only receives 8¢/kWh for electricity they export to the grid, solar self-consumption is the rule for ensuring the system pays itself off. People are already leaning away from the grid.

Enter Queensland utilities to give a final push: From 1 July Ergon and Energex are implementing new rules which essentially require solar system owners to install export control devices on their solar systems. Incredibly, these new rules will further encourage solar homes to aim for electricity self-sufficiency, almost certainly prompting higher rates of ‘grid defection‘ in the state. This could mean more individuals opting to have solar + storage systems installed; it may even result in whole communities minimising their use of or opting out of grid electricity altogether, forming their own ‘micro-grids’.

So there we have it: A Florida woman wrangles with city government for her decision to eschew grid electricity and mains water, and meanwhile in Australia one state’s utilities appear to be antagonizing solar homes to get off their networks. These two distinct stories, both about people who want to decrease their reliance on the ‘system’ and their reasons for doing so, tell a tale of the times in which we live–and highlight the self-reliance that the growing affordability of solar power has made possible.

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

James Martin II