At least, not in Florida anymore. Seems the City of Cape Coral is taking a heavy handed approach to a woman who’s house is not hooked up to the electric/water/sewer grid. She was taken to court for multiple code violations, found guilty, and ordered to vacate her home, which she owns. The judge in the case admitted he did not want to rule as he did but had no choice thanks to something called the International Building Code. If I read the article correctly the woman can return to her home provided she hooks up to said utilities, she just doesn’t have to use them. Which only makes sense when you are dealing with government, not the real world. She is still fighting for the right to live in her house, relying only on her solar panels for power, rain water, and presumably compost toilets. But the city, as is common will not be budging unless a higher court rules in her favor.
This whole situation does not surprise me in the least. There are several aspects that come into play here. Firstly, until I read this story I had no idea we had an International Building Code. Apparently, it sets the basic requirements of all dwelling in the country in regards to things like exits, room heights, utilities, and Darwin knows what else. Cities are well known for using building codes to enforce their will on property owners and manipulating the codes to fill their coffers with lots of loot from code violations. Here in the Keys, code enforcement officers are some of the most hated government officials in the islands, which is saying a lot. Nothing is more dreaded than the red tag when you are trying to build or improve your property.
If you are unfamiliar with Cape Coral, it’s a small city sitting just north of Ft. Myers on the southwest end of Florida. Essentially, it consists of nothing but miles and miles of overbuilt property on reclaimed wetlands right on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is a maze of standard Florida type homes crammed together with the usual commercial centers. There are dozens of canals running through the city to give water access to a lot of the homes, and beachfront. If a major storm ever hits this area, the storm surge alone will wipe this place off the map. But something as important as storm surge never stopped anyone from building there. Anyways, when you have a city like this, you need a large amount of utilities to power the homes, bring fresh water in, and waste out. Which brings us to the real reason why this woman is being forced back into the grid.
Utility companies who provide power and water, have spent billions of dollars over the years to build their infrastructure. Power plants, cables, power stations, water pipes, pumps, sewage treatment plants. It was quite the project in it’s day. To be able to provide power, water, and sewage service, to millions of people successfully, and mostly affordably took lots of money and man power. And when these systems were planned, they were done so based on the current technology of the day. Power would be generated at a power plant, be it coal, diesel, nuclear, or whatever, and then the power was transmitted to the each individual home by a complicated system of wires and cables. Same with the water and sewage. Pipe lines were laid to each home, pumps installed at strategic points, water supplies built up using reservoirs or wells. At the time it was all built, it was state of the art and the best we could do. But, as with everything, progress and technology move forward with new and more better options.
Suddenly, solar power has come into it’s own. Once an inefficient and expensive way to produce electricity, solar is now an affordable option for most homes. Set up some solar panels on the roof, hook up to a bank of batteries, and you have all the power you need. In fact, in many cases, solar array’s on homes have produced so much power, the homeowners are able to sell the surplus back into the grid and make money off of it. As for water, this particular part of Florida gets a ton of rain. Thunderstorms hit here almost daily so there is sufficient rainfall to supply a lot of homes, particularly if they are frugal and minimal in their lifestyles, which it appears the woman in question is. A compost toilet can do wonders for not making sewage. The resulting waste can be composted and sold or given to garden shops, farms, or whatever. So with all this emerging technology why should this woman, or anyone be forced to hook up to the major utilities when they no longer need them? The answer, as always is money. And independence.
The major utilities, as I mentioned have spent large sums of money to build their little empires. And they spend more to maintain said empires. But they also reap in huge profits from the sale of their power and water. And up until the recent solar and tech boom, said utilities have had a monopoly on providing power and water to our happy little hives. So when this new fangled technology shows up and threatens their business model, and more importantly, their profits…well, that just ain’t gonna fly. So what do they do? They pressure the cities and governments, by way of manipulating the building codes, to require everyone to be hooked up to the grid, no matter what. The utilities will throw money behind new laws that will stifle innovation or implementation of new technology simply because they have not been able to gain control of said technology themselves and profit from it. As long as the utilities maintain control of the power and water, they can pretty much charge whatever they want, make whatever requirements they want to the homeowners in terms of conservation, and continue to reap large profits. If homeowners started setting up their own little power stations, and collecting rainwater for themselves, well, that’s agin the laws here and by gum, we’ll put a stop to all these hippie off the grid types right quick.
It’s not just the utilities who are doing battle against new technology which threatens their out dated business models. It’s happening everywhere.
Newspapers are all but extinct now, thanks to the internet. Why would anyone want to pay for some dead trees with smelly ink just to read news stories that happened 24 hours ago when you can go online and see what is happening, as it happens.
Tesla Motors, makers of electric cars, have put together a business model where they sell their vehicles direct instead of using the old dealership model. They are fighting state by state for this because the dealership lobby does not want to be put out of business. So far the dealerships have more money and power and are currently winning, but in the long run they will lose.
The auto industry itself is shitting it’s pants over the idea that phone and computer companies like Apple and Google are researching their own vehicles. While they mock and tease the idea, secretly they know if these two companies do indeed build a car, the car industry in it’s present state is doomed. Which is not a bad thing.
New technology, particularly the type that rattles the cages of old and established industries is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite entertaining to watch smug old businesses who monopolized and manipulated our lives get their asses kicked because they refused to adapt to the changes.
As for the woman in Cape Coral, for now she will lose her fight. If she does comply and hooks up to the grid, even though she won’t use any of the utilities, she will still get a power bill and water bill, because the utilities can do so. It makes no sense but again, we are dealing with government who is controlled by corporate money, so common sense will always lose out to profits.
Eventually though, the utilities will be the ones who lose out. Solar will continue to become more affordable and efficient. Water shortages will force people to fend for themselves. Sooner or later, some small town somewhere will take a stand against the utilities and begin getting everyone off the grid. And hopefully by then, off the grid living will take off, as it should. It will be cleaner, less intrusive, and more affordable. It’s just a matter of time.