Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ameren Wants to Stick it to You. Here’s What You Can Do

According to a story in the Belleville News Democrat today, owners of homes and businesses that depend upon electric heat can expect to see their power bills soar by 90 percent or more when AmerenIP rolls out its new rate plan on January 2nd. At the same time, owners of gas-heated homes can expect to pay an extra $1.00 per day under the new plan. David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, says “It’s bad for everyone, but it’s really bad for people with electric heat.”

After reading that article, the cost of solar photovoltaic panels and bio-fueled stoves suddenly doesn’t seem so high anymore. Stove-related chores are less of a burden now that the potential for saving money is greater. Interest in alternative sources of electricity and heating is already growing, but I expect a surge as rates begin their steep climb. For that reason, I’ll continue to provide information on this blog for those interested in pursuing an alternative path. Here is an overview of some heating and electrical system alternatives.

Heating your home with corn:

I chose corn as an alternative source of heating for several reasons. Based on market prices at the time, corn was the least expensive heating fuel. Although corn prices have gone up recently, I believe that corn is still the least expensive heating fuel.

Once you’ve decided to heat your home with corn, the next choice will be to choose a particular stove or furnace. I chose a fireplace insert (considered a stove), in part because I don’t have room for a furnace. I chose a 70,000 BTU model because I wanted the ability to heat my entire home. Had I settled for a smaller one, I would have only been able to heat one or two rooms.

Installation was easy, requiring only a small hole in the side of my house for a clothes-dryer-like vent. Corn is available in bags, but it is more economical to buy it in bulk, perhaps a pickup truck load at a time. In addition to hauling and storing the corn, I spend about 15 minutes a day filling the stove’s hopper, and maintaining the stove. A vast amount of information is available at, so I’ll refer you to that site for additional details.

Solar photovoltaic systems:

If you’re considering an alternative to grid-supplied electricity for your home, you’ll first need to decide upon the type of system. Your choices are; off-grid, and grid-tied.

An off-grid system is a stand-alone system that uses batteries to store power generated by the sun’s rays during the day. A grid-tied system also generates power from the sun’s rays, but surplus power is applied to the power grid for credit. The user relies on power from the grid when the sun doesn’t shine, but the surplus power generated by the photovoltaic array offsets the cost of that power. No batteries are necessary in a grid-tied system.

Here is a complete list of the components for an off-grid system:

One or more solar photovoltaic panel(s).
Mounting hardware for the panel(s).
At least one 12-volt battery.
A charge controller.
A 12-volt dc to 120-volt ac inverter.
Wire and wiring accessories.

Next, you’ll need to determine how much power you’ll need from the system. You can cut your needs considerably by replacing inefficient lighting and appliances in your home. This, of course, will allow you to get by with a less expensive system.

If you’re lucky enough to have an unobstructed south-facing roof, you have an excellent spot to mount your solar panels. Panels can also be mounted on a pole, or other ground-based fixture.

Because this is an overview, I’ll stop here. Check for previous posts on this blog for additional information. You’ll find a list of websites that provide in-depth coverage of topics covered here. Be sure to return to this blog often, and I appreciate your comments.

Solar John

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