Walking the Talk

How I Became "The Energy Guy"


I caught the energy bug back in 1988 while I was riding my bicycle up a steep hill. Huffing and puffing, I was passed by a bus that was churning out thick black smoke. I had to stop riding because there was no air to breath.

A month later, I traded $350 for a 50 watt solar electric panel, scavenged an old car battery, and bought a low voltage light bulb. I re-wired my radio to operate off of DC power and turned the bedroom in the house I was renting into an off-grid room. It was an empowering experience that started me down a career path. One year later, I was working for the Solar energy company I bought the panel from. Two years after that I got together with two friends and started “The Vermont Electric Car Company” where we converted half a dozen gas guzzlers to electric power.

Those were barn-storming years for electric vehicles, and it was great fun, but there wasn’t much business. Our company tag line was “Three Hungry Guys.” Despite our position as “most energy efficient commuter car” in the 1991 New England Tour de Sol electric car rally, we had to call it quits.

In 1993 I began working as an energy auditor, visiting thousands of new and old homes; measuring, metering, crawling around in attics and basements, advising people on energy matters ranging from efficiency to renewable energy choices. I became known around the state as “The Energy Guy”. This experience inspired me to write about the people I’d met and places I’d seen, and resulted in my first piece of published writing and appeared in Vermont Life magazine in 1997.

In the early 90s, I found a piece of land at the end of a VT town road and started building my house. The land was far from utility power so the only economic choice was to go “off-grid” with solar electric power. Lucky for me, that was the only option anyway – even if grid power was ten feet away. I still had that 50 watt solar panel and used it for lighting and to power my coffee grinder as I built my house while living in a tent near the building site.

My messy bachelor building project has now grown into a family homestead. That 50 watt panel has now grown into a 2,000 watt photovoltaic array. We’ve added a 1,000 watt wind generator, and a diesel generator takes care of back-up power when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. For many years (before the birth of my son) I made my own biodiesel for the generator and my old VW diesel Golf. Now I buy it when I can find it locally. Funny how our priorities change over time.

Around the year 2000, after answering the same questions people had about their home energy use, I thought “someone should write a book about this.” So I did. The Home Energy Diet was published in 2005 by New Society Publishers. The book has opened many new doors ranging from consulting, to writing for various magazines, appearances on local and national TV and radio shows, conducting energy efficiency workshops, and teaching about sustainable building for Solar Energy International.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But I’m not done yet. My ultimate goal is to wean my family off of fossil fuels altogether. We enjoy all the modern day comforts, conveniences, and distractions of any average American family, but we do it using a fraction of the energy of the typical American household.

How do we do it? Someone ought to write a book….