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How peakniks are preparing

Summer’s over and energy bills are rising

Thank God that DMEA, the local electric utility, only wants to raise its rates by 2.5 percent. A couple of years ago we built our house to be heated with a radiant floor powered by off-peak electricity at night. Natural gas was cheaper at the time, but its cost may double this winter because of shortages of the stuff.

I’m one of a growing number of people who believe fossil fuels are going to become very expensive over the next few years, and everybody but the filthy rich are going to be looking for ways to make their lives more energy-efficient.

So I asked people at, a site that monitors energy depletion, what they are doing to prepare for a future that can no longer depend on cheap oil and gas:

Solar Dave

When I reached a point in my life where I could afford a mid-priced car, I bought a low-priced gasoline car, a low-priced electric car, and a 2.5KW solar array instead.


Same $$$. Way different outcome. Every day of this slow-collapse-to-chaos, I feel like I made the right decision.”


I revived my canning skills and made preserving the harvest a priority. We raise chickens for meat and eggs.

We grow many of our veggies. We heat only with wood because our 1930’s house only has a wood furnace and we love wood heat.

I bought a never-used oil lamp recently at a yard sale with a jug of oil for $5. I still have my Y2K candle stockpile (I buy them faster than I burn them). Will they ever come in handy for more than aesthetics?

There's a treadle sewing machine in the attic I look forward to bringing out to replace my electric machines even if not necessary.

We have and use a rain barrel set up at the green- house and another waiting to be installed.

I am looking forward to making an outhouse (to collect humanure). We also plan to make a tipi, sauna and hot tub.

We have a cob oven. We have a rocket stove. We have numerous bicycles, with a teen who is fixing them and not pushing us for a driver's license. (Lucky us!)

I studied herbs and homeopathy. We know our neighbors and slaughter chickens with some of them. We shop at thrift stores, yard and estate sales. We are members at our local food co-op.

Peak Oil or not. This is how we live. Why wait?”


Short term, we have a one-month supply of canned goods and a one-week supply of bottled water on hand in case of supply interuptions. I’ve upgraded heating and insulation for my house, tuned up my cars, turned my thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer.”


About a year ago I adjusted my stock portfolio and bought energy and other commodity stocks, and some foreign and domestic tech, and dumped anything vulnerable to permanently high energy prices.

Fortunately I never had anything as blatantly unviable as General Motors or United Airlines in my portfolio, but Toyota has done quite well, since that’s one company that plans for the long term and gets it, where U.S. car companies most patently do not.

However as the crisis deepens I will slowly get out of stocks and especially U.S. dollars, since our government is about as fiscally responsible as a drunkard with a credit card in an all-night brewery.


For power — emergency as well as conservation — we have done several things. We have candles and oil lamps for emergency light. We have three sources of heat — electric furnace, propane heater and a wood stove. The electric furnace (heat in general) has been used only a few days so far, since we’ve not had a really cold stretch yet.

When it does get cold, the thermostat is set at 62 and we wear sweaters. We’ve also replaced almost all the lightbulbs in the house with compact fluorescents. We’ve added some insulation to part of the house, though not as much as I would have liked. Since our windows are older and inefficient, we’ll be doing as we do every year, putting clear plastic over the insides for the winter months. We also utilize the heat of the sun, opening up the south curtains in the daytime and closing them at night to preserve the heat in the house.

For other emergency preparations — and as a chosen lifestyle — we have about nine months worth of food in the house — both home-preserved and store-bought. We have chickens for eggs and meat, rabbits and ducks for meat, and goats for dairy (and eventually meat).

We limit our driving to necessary driving. Errands are run while already in town, so we save the trips and gas.

We also have two rain barrels — one with an overflow into a third — and stored bottled water.

Finally, we believe in community building, and take every opportunity to work with and get to know better our neighbors.”


We decided if there were going to be one inevitable effect of rising energy prices it would obviously be economic. In the area of Central California where we had lived most of our lives, the economy was becoming more dependent on 80-mile commuters to the Bay Area and less on agriculture. Consequently real estate prices were skyrocketing and rising fuel prices seemed destined to unravel the whole ball of string; so we cashed in our chips.

We decided it was time to follow a long-held dream and moved to a small farm in the Midwest. We now have no debt — as well as a much smaller, but more diversified income. We are in the process of remodeling the 100-year-old farmhouse for energy efficiency – surprisingly, well-built old houses have many good features in this respect.

We are learning management-intensive grazing – by far the most cost- and energy-efficient method of raising beef. And with the time previously spent working to pay interest on a mortgage, car, cards, etc., we grow and preserve some of our own food, from pigs to chickens to beans — mostly for pleasure but in part for security.”


My wife and I have been doing the Voluntary Simplicity thing for decades, so we are not worried about more expensive energy.

We have a small condominium, so heating is cheap even though it’s electric. The wisest move was the decision by my wife to live within walking distance of the stores, libraries and other places we frequent.

Also, we try to pick education and recreational activities that are local, so we don't have to drive far. It’s been very helpful for us to join groups that encourage us in our values, such as local ecology groups.”


What do you think was the incentive to stock up on wine in the old days? It can’t be all that wrong to do so in our time!

Editorial Notes: Don Olsen is editor of the Paonia Valley Chronicle in Colorado (hardcopy only). -BA

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