Hello, March of 2015.

The past months have seen a lot of new work on this project, with the furthering of the interviews (these people are deep, and these aren’t chats over lunch) and with the developing portraits.

The Ranch in Tucson has become the urban oasis that I hoped that it would be, and there are solar panels on the roof, and the outflow from the sinks is plenty to water the ornamental vines, fruit trees, and herb garden. We are moving to composting toilets this year, and the garden now sports an outdoor bed, which (by virtue of circumstances, assorted) punched a hole in time and space.

the best thing ever outdoor bed at cooper st

If we add one of Andre Broessel’s spherical collectors, we can heat the pool, and run the outdoor audio system, the lights. Maybe more.

A small group of us are set to embark here in Tucson on an adventure that is so simple, we all laugh in disbelief; living lives that are productive, and don’t take more than they produce. Living in joy, without pressure to work at something soulless simply to earn money to have enough to eat and live. We suddenly realized that all that was really required to run a small, self-sustaining machine was that we be our very best and work hard. Everything else will take care of itself, if our work is what we love.

Michael Pope and Kate McKinnon

Michael Pope and Kate McKinnon, photo Kyle Cassidy

Regarding our property here, and getting off of the demand side of the grid, it’s not really that hard to do better. It was easy to go solar, for example. Elon Musk’s company, Solar City, installed panels on our Tucson roof for free (and not just because we are a demonstration project, it’s because that’s how it works). The panels are free, and you simply pay your electric bill to Solar City instead of your local utility.

If we use more than we produce, we pay two bills. If we produce more than we use, it stacks up as a credit at our local utility, in case we want or need it. But the extra we put into the system is used to satisfy demand for power in real time. This is kind of huge, if you think about all of the ways that all of these things add up to impact. And I didn’t really have to do anything, beyond allow them to install the equipment. No cost, no hassle.

People complain about only getting credit for extra power, and yes, it would be nice to be paid for it, but that isn’t the reality right now, and we aren’t wasting five minutes worrying about it. The more the utility companies make from this transition, the easier it will be for them, and I feel that I am getting enough of the pie by having a lower electric bill (I do, by about 20%) and by instantly moving from the Demand to the Supply column.

Cooper House Solar Array

The panels are really mellow- we don’t even notice them. And our roof faces south, with a nice slope, so we didn’t need them mounted on frames that stand above the roof. We’ve grown vines on trellises a few feet away from the windows, and planted trees, and with their shade (and the shade of the panels on the roof, which is significant) the house is ten degrees cooler in summer without doing anything.

Solar City isn’t the only company doing it (check in your area to see your options) and many local utilities are finally offering similar programs, because it now makes economic sense for sunny parts of the United States. If you do go with Elon Musk and Solar City, though, tell them that Kate McKinnon in Tucson recommended you, and we will kick back half of their referral fee ($250) to you, and put the other half in the kitty here to do more sustainable projects.

Just think of what the US could accomplish if we redirected only a fraction of our bloated defense budget to becoming a living, breathing example of solar and wind power. We have an enviably good land mass on the planet, loaded with natural resources and plenty of sunshine, and frankly, we are pissing it away. We are doing silly, unworthy things like blowing the tops off of ancient mountains for a few dirty scrapes of coal. One could rattle on about such matters, but our approach is that it’s better to just do what we hope to see done on our own small scale. It’s enough. Especially if we write about it.

We may not get our excess power purchased, but we can refer each other and get paid. We may not get our city off of coal, but if we underconsume, we can donate power in real time to cover as much as an entire second household. We will soon be four people off of the city waste pipes.

Pissing for peace, as John Lennon said. Everything we do should be for peace, even the most basic of needs. For peace. Listen up – the part about “what can we do” starts at :50 in this incredible interview, captured in 1969 by a 14 year old kid named Josh Raskin who skipped school and snuck into Lennon’s hotel room with a tape recorder, and got lucky. Yay for 14 year old kids with the cojones to do that.

We have an impact.

There will be much more to be seen from us soon as we emerge from our planning and drawing and dreaming, stretch for Spring, and begin to work in earnest making everything we dream up grow into living, breathing examples of our ideas and our simple happiness at being alive.

Kate Stern by Kyle Cassidy

photo of Kate Stern by Kyle Cassidy, Tucson, Feb 2015

photo of Doriot Lair and Kellner Brown by Kate McKinnon, Boston 2014

Doriot and Kellner on deck