Published on August 25th, 2010 | by Guest Contributor8
No Name Key’s Fight to Remain Off the Grid
When you live off the grid, it becomes part of your persona. It is part of your identity; one way you might describe yourself to strangers. Off-gridders take personal pride in their ability to make their own power, be energy efficient, and live without the gadgets many Americans take for granted as part of life.
When you buy land off the grid, you know what you are buying. Sure some people may look into how far away the grid is and decide to take power to their property, but most off-gridders know what they are getting into and accept it. In fact, for many, it makes the property more appealing. If you plan to live off the grid, you seek out that perfect property to meet those needs whether solar, wind, or hydro.
I’ve lived off the grid for 18 years making power with a micro hydro turbine for most of those years. Given the uniqueness of living off the grid, I can’t imagine how it would feel to have grid power forced upon me, as many residents of No Name Key (NNK), Florida are facing.
NNK is a 998 acres island, most of which is part of the National Key Deer Refuge to protect endangered Florida Key deer. There are only 43 residents on the island, all of which are off the grid and not connected to a central sewer system. The community is divided, as mostly new part time residents are pushing for the utilities to come to the island.
I first learned about the grid struggle on NNK from Nick Rosen’s book Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America. Although I find this book focused on judgmental descriptions of off-gridders with a rare mention of how they actually create power, I was interested in the story of NNK and contacted a friend of mine in the Keys for more information.
According to Rosen, the movement to bring power to NNK is led by wealthy Bob Reynolds, who paid $1.3 million for his home, the largest amount ever paid on the island. Since the recession has hit, Bob’s property values have dropped, so he wants grid power to restore his home’s value, Rosen contends.
At the heart of the grid power struggle on NNK is a central wastewater sewer system. NNK residents use septic systems and composting toilets. In 1985 the EPA found, “No Name Key as the 4th worst polluted waterbody in the Florida Keys based on Nitrogen, Nitrates and Phosphates.” Out-dated septic systems have been blamed, and to create a central wastewater treatment system, grid power and water is needed, so the argument goes.
There are alternatives, including upgrading septics, but many pro-grid advocates think it is in the best interest of the island to connect. Big Pine Key’s Coconut Telegraph reports:
If you remove the emotional, regulatory, and engineering dilemmas, and simply ask “What is best for the island?”, the only logical choice is to connect No Name to electricity, water, and sewer. These issues have been diluted beyond comprehension. Protecting the island should be the highest priority, but it quickly gets pushed down the list.
In the name of protecting the island, other residents are fighting grid power and centralized water to protect the endangered key deer. In fact, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) has proposed eliminating regulations originally put in place to protect the deer:
Eliminate Chapter 48-206 WATER CONNECTION IN WILDLIFE REFUGES. Proposed revision eliminates the policy of the Authority not to provide water connections or hookups in National Wildlife Refuge areas or hardwood hammock areas within its jurisdiction and subjects these areas to the same rules and regulations as other areas served by the Authority.
It will be in interesting to see how the struggle unfolds on No Name Key. As an off-gridder, I have empathy for residents fighting to maintain their way of life. Resident Alicia Roemmele-Putney explains, “Why change a place that is unique and special?’ It’s so neat to get your power from the sun and your water from the rain. That’s why we moved here.” I can’t help but agree.