Frustrated With Utilities, Some Californians Are Leaving the Grid

The appeal of off-grid homes has grown in part because utilities have become less reliable. As natural disasters linked to climate change have increased, there have been more extended blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and other states.

Californians are also upset that electricity rates keep rising and state policymakers have proposed reducing incentives for installing solar panels on homes connected to the grid. Installing off-grid solar and battery systems is expensive, but once the systems are up and running, they typically require modest maintenance and homeowners no longer have an electric bill.

RMI, a research organization formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, has projected that by 2031 most California homeowners will save money by going off the grid as solar and battery costs fall and utility rates increase. That phenomenon will increasingly play out in less sunny regions like the Northeast over the following decades, the group forecasts.

David Hochschild, chairman of the California Energy Commission, a regulatory agency, said the state’s residents tend to be early adopters, noting that even a former governor, Jerry Brown, lives in an off-grid home. But Mr. Hochschild added that he was not convinced that such an approach made sense for most people. “We build 100,000 new homes a year in California, and I would 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 unwittingly hurt efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is because the excess electricity that rooftop solar panels produce will no longer reach the grid, where it can replace power from coal or natural gas plants. “We don’t need everybody to cut the cord and go it alone,” said Mark Dyson, senior principal with the carbon-free electricity unit of RMI.

Pepe Cancino moved from Santa Monica to Nevada County in 2020 after he and his wife, Diane, lost their jobs during the pandemic. They bought five acres with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains. Mr. Cancino, 42, a former home health care worker, picked up a chain saw and an ax and began learning how to build a house and generate his own power.

When they finish 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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