Functioning “Off-Grid”

Power: How do we generate it?

Every summer, there is a list of most common questions asked by guests. One of the top questions on that list is: Where does your power come from?

While most of the Stehekin Valley residents enjoy public power (provided by Chelan PUD, but generated by a pelton wheel here in Stehekin), the Ranch has always been “off grid”. Since the PUD lines end several miles short of the Ranch, we have to generate our own power, and have burned diesel since our inception.

Burning diesel is obviously not an ideal choice – it is not particularly environmentally friendly, and it is certainly not cheap. Left to our own devices, we would use a Micro-Hydro system (similar to the pelton wheel used by the PUD, but on a smaller scale) which would have a low impact on the environment, and be nearly free. However, in the grand wisdom of our government, hydro has been deemed “non-green” in Washington State, and thus banned as a power source unless grandfathered in.

How our system has worked historically:

We have a “Hybrid” system which has been used for 30 years. A hybrid system is where you use components of an alternative energy such as a battery bank and inverter, but your main source of power is still fossil fuels. Ours system consists of a diesel generator which runs up to 16 hours each day. When it is not running, we use energy stored in batteries to run our lights, and energy stored in super cooled glycol to run our refrigeration.

Becoming more “Green”:

LED light bulbNEW FOR 2013: Cliff and Kerry (owners) have installed a new solar power system for their house. The Ranch will be able to tap in to that solar installation so that when there is abundant sun we can use the excess power. On a sunny day this will cut up to 10 hours off of the time we need to run the generator. Other things we are doing to make our system more efficient include a switch from the now antiquated fluorescent bulbs to LED lighting, and to install a more efficient pump and kitchen exhaust fan.

How does this affect the visitor?

Truly it is fun to visit eco-tourism establishments and to be a part of supporting a system that is striving to be more efficient. Unfortunately the “green” that is being saved is not cash. Alternative energy (except for the aforementioned micro-hydro which bureaucracy has essentially blocked) is very expensive. It also does not deliver the copious amounts of power that can be generated with fossil fuels. Consequently, with all alternative energy systems conservation becomes a key element.

Doing your part:

As a customer you are probably asking, “how does that affect me?” or perhaps a better question, “what can I do as a client to make this system work out?” The biggest change will be that with the generator only operating around 6 hours per day, all of our large loads need to be timed for that time. Those times are projected to be from 6am to 9am and from 5pm to 8pm. Large loads such as hair dryers would need to happen during those brackets. We hope and trust that our clientele will support and understand our desire to be more responsible with our energy supply and will be willing to make the small sacrifices necessary.

Let me be clear here: the above mentioned time restrictions are for large electrical loads. Many electrical items may still be used the rest of the time. The lights are on all the time, and we also have power to run CPAP machines or other small devices. And rest assured, we do make sure the kitchen has all the power needed to run the refrigeration and produce plenty of tasty home cooked meals!

Hair DryersLet us talk a minute about the much used hair dryer as an example of items we take for granted. The high setting on a hair dryer is often 1500 watts. The average LED light bulb is 10 watts. It is obvious then that to run your hair dryer on high it is the equivalent of running 150 LED bulbs! We understand that hair dryers are nice, but truly we do not mind if you show up for breakfast with wet hair, and it certainly will help us keep our system working.

Living “off-grid” certainly adds an extra sense of adventure, but with a basic understanding of where the power is coming from, a little planning ahead is all that is required to make the system work. We greatly appreciate the positive attitude of our guests. We are blessed to have a clientele willing to make some minor changes from their normal routines while visiting our Ranch.