THE BLOG
02/09/2011 05:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Launching Off-the-Grid Settlements in the U.S.

I get about 20 emails a week from people who want to go live "off the grid." It's not mainstream (yet) but there is a pent-up demand to live that way, in a cabin, or a boat or a yurt -- without utility power and water. So many people are hacked off with "The System," and in many cases have no other option since they have no job and their home has been foreclosed.

But they do not know where or how to start. It's not quite as simple as buying cheap land and moving on to it. There are zoning laws and building permits and technical skills and family commitments to consider.

So, I launched landbuddy.com as a way people could meet each other online, form alliances and agree to pool skills and resources. It is taking off and is being used in the way I hoped. Dozens of off-grid projects have started as a result. But they tend to be in ones and twos -- a handful of families at the most moving off the grid together -- safety in numbers and greater resources.

Now, I plan to ratchet it up a bit. I want to propose to the government and others that we begin to plan off-the-grid settlements of about 300 homes at a time. Depending on the cost of the land these eco-homes could be delivered -- with all the necessary infrastructure -- for about $50,000-$60,000.

Look at the benefits:

  1. Affordable homes for the unemployed or foreclosed who have the relevant skills and also the can-do attitude.
  2. Homeowners also have means to feed themselves via the landholding.
  3. A serious contribution to national energy security.
  4. A serious contribution to rural regeneration at this difficult time

I am not talking about forcing the unemployed Back to the Land. There would be knowledge workers as well as plumbers, commuters as well as food growers. The only rule would be "No Second Homes."

I am talking to architects, venture capitalists and foreclosure self-help groups. Now I need land and some kind of support from federal or state government (not necessarily financial). I am asking states or counties to come forward and say, "Yes, that sounds like a worthwhile idea -- come try and do it here."

I am not expecting there to be hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands wanting to go live off the grid. But I am certain there are a few thousand who would drop what they are doing in a minute if they thought they were joining a group of talented like-minded individuals.

Meanwhile the Federal Government is spending billions on rolling out the smart grid, but what if the smart grid is obsolete by the time it has been built? What if the future lies in micro-grids -- i.e. small communities owning and controlling their own grid?

Surely it would be sensible to spread the bets about on the table instead of placing them all on one number?