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No Power Lines Needed for this OKC Couple

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Local News, Science.
December 1, 2011

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Oklahoma City established a sustainability office in 2009, meant to find ways to cut energy usage across the city. And on the northern edge, they found just that. Thing is, the couple has been off the electric grid since 1987.

The bumper sticker on their truck reads “I get my energy from the sun”. And Barbara Hagen and Bruce Johnson back it up. They pump water using wind, get electricity from solar panels on their roof, and heat their comfy house with a wood stove.

“The big thing that being off grid does it makes us very conscious of energy use and our balance of our use with our resources.”

Walking around their property is to see a bunch of different technologies, from a whole span of eras. A huge, rusty, 1930’s windmill provides the power to the water pump. The sleek solar panels on the roof…about 15 years old. And then there’s the sturdy, trusty, do it all black wood stove.

“The choices are wood or sun. Most any sunny day, the wood stove is off, unless it’s just horrendously cold,” said Bruce.

All these moving parts mean you need something to keep track of it all. Bruce points to a number of instruments on the wall.

“This gauge here is still rather crucial, that’s the voltage of the battery in the system and it’s showing that it’s pretty much full charge. And this gauge here we watch a lot this is the water temperature and it’s only up to a hundred, which is a little low.”

Bruce and Barbara benefit from a relatively flexible schedule. Barbara works part time, while Bruce is retired, but a constant tinkerer. And the inside of their house looks no different than most: fridge, TV, radio.

But when Bruce started to explain to me how an oak tree on the corner of the house could affect so much, I had to stop and ask, do things like this run through your mind every day?

“It’s second nature I guess, in one ways it can drive you nuts thinking about it,” answered Bruce. “But you get to the point where you’re not thinking about it, you just know.”

There’s constant examples of trying to do things better than before. Take cooking. They have that large black stove. But they also have a solar powered version, that just goes outside and draws power from the sun.

“They’re an inspiration for people and even if someone is not interested in living entirely off the grid, which is a really big commitment, even if you can take one or two things away from what Bruce and Barbara are doing it helps lessen the need for  energy among everyone in OKC,” said Jennifer Gooden, Oklahoma City’s Sustainability Director.

Bruce said he first started thinking about energy use back in the 70’s: a time of waiting in long lines for gas, and concerns about peak oil. Over time, it evolved into a pretty appealing idea, and he and Barbara went for it. There isn’t much of a financial benefit, but Barbara says she feels better about her life.

“I like living closer to nature but also being that we are interconnected, that helps me be more conscious of it.”

There are other benefits. With no power lines running to their property, you could say they make their own power.

“When the ice storm, some neighbors, we were kinda gathered out on the road there just kinda in awe of what had happened and they were comparing notes when the power went off and they turned to me and said ‘When did your power go off?’ and I said ‘Well it was actually about 31 years ago.’”

Putting the system together took time and effort. It certainly helped that Bruce had an engineer dad, and grew up with tools always available. He taught himself much of the technology as he went along, helping keep costs in check.

“Whenever you hear Bruce and Barbara talk, you learn that they’re just regular people. People that just have strong values and work really hard to live by those values. And once you see that, it becomes more accessible,” said Jennifer Gooden.

Still, just because they’re off the grid doesn’t mean they’re satisfied. Bruce looks almost defeated when I mention the bumper sticker.

“There is the reality that the truck that you saw that on burns petroleum so we’re painfully aware that we’re a work in progress, that we haven’t arrived. That every time we go somewhere, we’re part of the problem.”

Bruce Johnson and Barbara Hagen will give a workshop on how to conserve energy Thursday night, from 7 until 8:30 at OSU OKC, located at 400 N. Portland. The event will be held in Room 240.

4 Responses to “No Power Lines Needed for this OKC Couple”

  1. elliottok1 says:

    Wow, what a great couple! We need more people like this.

  2. Barb Eaton says:

    My hubby would love this- he tinkers with solar power and would love to have a wind generator. We don't want to be off-the-grid per se, but to be flexible enough to survive comfortably when those storms hit that inevitably take a power line with them.

    • rhubbard says:

      Barb, Congratulations! You are the winner of the How to Eat Weekends cookbook. To claim your prize, call 800.228.4678 and ask to talk to Jenny Mae.

  3. Hugh says:

    This was a very cool report!

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