“Off the Grid” is Off the Charts in Key Biscayne

“The Key Biscayne Times” September cover story, OFF THE GRID “generated more mail and more comment than anything the BT has published in recent years,” says an editorial in the paper. “Obviously there is tremendous interest in alternative sources of energy and more eco-friendly homes generally.”

Readers praised the efforts of the three individuals highlighted in the story — Albert Harum-Alvarez, Skip Van Cel, and Spike Marro. Just as many were frustrated to read about the governmental obstacles they faced.

Below is a sampling of the comments the Times received:


Your “Off the Grid” article was very refreshing. I really liked how he emphasized that it was not easy to build a “green house.” I also liked Skip Van Cel’s idea of collecting water and using it for irrigation, though it makes me sad that he will not be allowed to flush his toilets with rain water. Out of the whole article, that was my favorite part because it was completely outstanding and original. I’m sure the only reason the county did not allow him to flush with rain water is because they cannot charge him for it. I also really enjoyed the part about his house having a “butterfly roof.” Very ingenious and smart.
Jim Harper did a very good job capturing the frustration and hardship of the forward-thinking homeowners, while at the same time keeping me interested enough that I’m now thinking in the future I’d like to implement some of these ideas into my own home.
The only thing this article lacked were some simple tips that regular homeowners could implement. I would have liked a small list of tips that I could use at my house that were less expensive and that I could do fairly quickly.

Van Cel’s “butterfly” roof channels rainwater to cisterns, where it will be used for irrigation and a pond — but not toilets.
Thanks to this article, I have begun researching some of the simple ways I can make a difference and save myself some money. I will definitely look into collecting rain water and using that to water my garden.
In the newspapers, I have seen very few “earth friendly” reports, and I’m pleased that Biscayne Times did an article on such an important topic. I hope you will keep up the good work and continue publishing stories like this one.
Jeniffer Miranda

I am a Miami-Dade resident and I found “Off the Grid” very interesting. I like the way Jim Harper focuses on the theme.
I read it and now I’m interested in having more information. As Mr. Harper says, “Hybrid homes may be the next big thing.”
This led me to think: Wouldn’t it be better if we had solar energy and ecologically friendly houses? Does this have something to do with political and economic interests?
Indeed it would be better to have them, but economic issues are stronger. Obviously governmental entities like Miami Dade Water and Sewer and others won’t like this idea.
Sabrina Velez
I just wanted to make a comment about Mr. Harper’s article on “green” houses. In my opinion it was very well written, and that attracts readers. It talks about the pros and cons of having ecological houses; and does so by using personal comments from those who actually are in that market and know the subject.
I think every Florida citizen needs to read this article. People forget about how bad we are in terms of taking care of our environment; and I think this is a good way to inform citizens that there are solutions.
Florida citizens would like to hear more about new techniques and solutions on this subject, because it helps them reduce their bills. In my opinion this is a good first step for creating consciousness. I definitely would like to see more of Jim Harper’s articles about environmental solutions in Biscayne Times.
Gilad Gavlovski
I thoroughly enjoyed “Off the Grid” by Jim W. Harper. Having listened to the news and read many articles about “going green” and alternative energy, I found this article both insightful and easy to grasp and understand.
Normally when I find myself reading about solar panels, energy costs, and helping the environment, I am left confused, but “Off the Grid” explained everything clearly while also being enjoyable to read.
Being a Florida resident and having vicariously experienced the pain and agony associated with building permits, I could easily relate. I very much enjoyed reading about the different people and their experiences with building houses that incorporate “green” technology.
The article left me educated and inspired to use the sun to my advantage.
Ashton Lynn Steffanci

Van Cel interior: Overhangs provide shade and windows open to take in breezes.
I am writing is response to the article “Off the Grid.” First I want to commend Jim W. Harper for his insight into a topic that benefits the pocketbooks of homeowners and also the environment. In these times of excessive temperature all over the world, and economic downturn especially here in the United States, Mr. Harper couldn’t have picked a better topic.
However, I was hoping for an insight into the details of how much money is saved on an average on a house that is fully off the grid, compare to one that is not. I believe putting a figure on how much is saved in a year between both types of houses would give readers a better perspective on how much we waste each year by not going green. Such perspective, I believe, will prompt people to action. As the saying goes, “In these difficult times, every penny counts.”
I was hoping that Mr. Harper would have investigated more on the hassle or the challenges the three pioneers faced with Miami-Dade County. We need to know exactly what kind of challenges are out there, and how we the people can ensure that such roadblocks are not there for people who want to save money and save the environment.
Furthermore, I would have liked it if Mr. Harper had shed more light on the shortfalls of going off the grid. Looking at the weather patterns of the United States, especially those of Florida; what are the chances of damage in the face of thunderstorms, excessive rainfall, and hurricanes?
Once again, I want to say thanks to your writer and to Biscayne Times for shedding more light on an issue that deserves more attention than it is getting presently.
Mustapha Anako
Miami Lakes
I would like to congratulate your paper on such an astute article. “Off the Grid” was a truly insightful piece that clears up the misconceptions of alternative resources. While the government preaches to us to switch away from oil, they continue to be sticklers over permits and building ordinances making our lives a living hell. Mr. Harper did a great job covering the story and exposing the truths, using three great examples as to just how difficult going “green” really is.
Most people don’t have that kind of time or money, especially when the state’s rebate funds go bankrupt.
Again, it was a great article. Thank you for it.
Austin Yager

Spike Marro’s array of solar “cells” are actually smooth strips that adhere directly to his metal roof.
I have to say I was not so enthusiastic when I came across “Off the Grid,” but after reading the first lines, I could not stop. I was learning this new way to save money and save the planet, and how the whole process actually works.
According to the article, Mr. Skip Van Cel “intends to install a 6000-watt solar-panel system and a tankless water heater that he estimates will keep his electric bill under $50 in August.” That is just amazing, especially since it looks he has a house bigger than the average in Miami.
The story of the other two “dreamers” is also fantastic.
The article was very critical and well narrated, especially since it put the state and their rebate program on the spot. It has really answered many doubts that, unconsciously, I had in my mind, especially the one that says, “If in South America we live with no A/C; why, if we have the technology and resources to do it, do we have to still live under A/C here?
Cesar Chuquizuta
Mr. Harper made some great points about solar energy and the idea of going green. I had no idea it was so tough to build energy-efficient homes in Miami-Dade County. It’s hard to believe that you need so many permits just to make your dream come true. The worst part about the solar panels is that they’re so expensive.
All in all, I enjoyed reading this article. It was a fun read and taught me a lot about solar power. I look forward to reading more related articles.
Jeffrey Murias
I found Jim W. Harper’s “Off the Grid” to be somewhat reassuring, in the way that he talks about some options we have to produce electricity. Mr. Harper shows that we do not have to rely on oil, the cause of multiple recent disasters in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, by the looks of it, it seems as though not many people will be able to afford converting their home’s sources of electricity to solar energy or geo-thermal energy. Although there is a program that reimburses those who convert to solar energy, it is not very promising.
This investment would be quite risky for those who aren’t part of the wealthier class of our community; not to mention the time and the hassle with the county to get the permits to make these conversions.
“Off the Grid” gave much insight to people who may be looking for ways to avoid participating in the oil consumption of our nation and of the world. There just needs to be cheaper and easier ways to do it.
David Pollo
South Miami
“Off the Grid” was an excellent and honest report on state-of-the-art solar. I still have advertising from around 1980 claiming how rooftop solar-water heaters pay for themselves in a few short years. Ever-climbing energy prices were to perform the trick back then.
Anybody able to perform a loan calculation knows that payback on a home retrofit will take 15 to 20 years, if you’re lucky. Of those, gravity systems are the only ones promising a reliable use and payback.
Solar electric, of course, is great for the boondocks, but not viable in urban settings with cheap electricity. Why the public should subsidize green enthusiasts is beyond me.
The article shows the dire need for a national energy policy in the interest of real people, one that looks ahead 50 years and more.
This would call for leadership spanning decades, and an electorate with a memory.
Aw, shucks.
Ulrich Michel

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