Resident discusses living off the grid

Matt Gardner
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For the past five years, Thomas Porter’s lifestyle has been characterized by a focus on self-reliance and sustainability.

Local resident Thomas Porter speaks about his experiences living off the grid to members of the group Renewable Power -- The Intelligent Choice on Tuesday evening at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library.

Known around the community for his efforts to live “off the grid,” the Prince Albert resident has learned a great deal from his experiences -- lessons he shared on Tuesday with local group Renewable Power -- The Intelligent Choice (RPIC).

Invited to speak at one of the group’s meetings, Porter put his own living situation in the context of wider social and environmental concerns.

“I think people don’t realize how fragile our infrastructure really is,” Porter said. “And the more demands placed on it, the more likely it’s going to be to kind of break down … and it’s just going to cost more and more money all the time.

“Where is that money going to come from? You cannot have perpetual growth in any species … We’re not exempt from the laws of physics and nature. We’ve just been lucky so far to be where we are, and I think that a time is coming when we have to be a lot more conservative -- and that’s what I’m trying to do, is just be conservative and not consume more than I need to.”

A onetime reporter and photographer for the Prince Albert Daily Herald, Porter is also an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman who was one of the first members of RPIC. He currently works as an alternative energy consultant.

Porter’s decision to transition to a low-impact lifestyle arose from a desire to get out of the “rat race” as well as recognition of the costly price of utilities.

“I was just self-employed … always seemed like there were looming debt issues and always having to hustle to make a dollar, and it was just really tiring and it wasn’t satisfying or fulfilling,” he recalled.

“Doing what I’m doing now, I never knew how beautiful it was to watch something grow. Every morning I have my cup of coffee in the greenhouse, and seeing (that) my tomatoes are two inches higher -- it’s really rewarding.”

Buying a piece of unserviced land in the country, Porter built a timber structure and filled in the spaces with straw.

The idea of being more self-sufficient insulates you from economic instability. Thomas Porter

He uses solar panels to generate electricity, catches rainwater for personal use, raises chickens and grows his own vegetables. Heat is generated through a wood stove furnace.

Living a low-impact lifestyle, he noted, “you learn right away how much water you use as an individual, because now you have to monitor it and ration it and be smarter about it … That is something that was kind of hard to swallow, to realize that the average shower takes 120 litres of water. That’s a lot of water.”

Many city dwellers are unaware of how much conventional urban living affects the environment, Porter said -- or how vulnerable reliance on existing infrastructure can make people in the event of a major disruption, pointing to recent power outages and boil water advisories in Prince Albert as examples.

“The idea of being more self-sufficient insulates you from economic instability,” he added, noting that a sudden drought in a region where Canadians import much of their food would lead to skyrocketing prices in grocery stores.

Offering a historical precedent, Porter pointed to how people were encouraged to have gardens and raise chickens in the city during the Second World War.

“I think that if we can reduce the dependence on shipping stuff and taking care of ourselves better, we’re going to save a lot of money, we’re going to do some really good things for our planet and (have) a healthier lifestyle all around.”

See also:

Partnership looking at sustainable construction

Local man contestant in national Discovery TV series

Organizations: Prince Albert, Renewable Power

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