A Chilly Reminder: A Dancing Rabbit Update

This past week came time to crush some more bottles in Dancing Rabbit's glass recycling routine. Crushed glass is used to replace sand and gravel in village construction projects. Photo by Dennis.

This past week came time to crush some more bottles in Dancing Rabbit’s glass recycling routine. Crushed glass is used to replace sand and gravel in village construction projects. Photo by Dennis.

Hi friends. This is Alline checking in for Dancing Rabbit.

The word this week is SNOW. We FINALLY got snow. SO MUCH SNOW! I cannot find an official snowfall report but I suspect it was around 6-8”. Or 47”, or maybe 83”…I’m from California, what do I know? Either way, it seemed like a LOT! It was gorgeous, beautiful, and downright spectacular.

While wandering around early taking photos of the snow-enveloped village, I ran into Bear shoveling paths (thanks, Bear!), Kurt using his bespoke snow plow (which he ingeniously crafted from a hand truck, ply wood, and some sheet metal – thanks Kurt!) and Illly, who was scraping snow off of solar panels around the village (thanks Illly!). The kids were running around like (very happy) crazy monkeys, and there was a lot of ooohing and aahhhing.

And there was, of course, sledding up on Vista de la Moo, with former work-exchanger, Michelle, back to lead the charge.

Inspired by Mae’s enthusiasm for “big snow”, there is now an igloo up at Critterville. What it lacks in authenticity it makes up for with wild creativity and determination. Construction will continue throughout the week, as more snow is predicted for Wednesday.

Sometime after breakfast on Sunday the power went out. Our first thought was what would become of Cob’s Super Bowl party? With a theme like “come for the commercials, stay for the food,” we’d been gearing up all week for it.

Power at Dancing Rabbit is a complicated thing. Brace yourselves, everybody – here comes some “good ‘ol days” talk:  Back in the beginning each building was powered by its own solar array and possibly a small wind turbine, and each building had its own battery bank in which to store electricity. Not being connected to the national grid meant that we were totally independent. We were careful with what appliances we used. With a gadget called a “Watts Up” we were able to measure output, and knew which appliances we could use and when. Heat-producing appliances like waffle irons pull lots of power, and were only used on sunny days or not at all. Our fridges were small and efficient. We were a bit obsessed.

Independence is all well and good when sun and wind is plentiful. When power in local areas was knocked out by storms, our buildings always remained up and running. But there were trade-offs (aren’t there always?) The winters here typically have two to three week stretches where it is cloudy and windless. Neither bodes well for solar or wind energy generation. During those times we’d ration our power, and as the batteries slowly emptied through electricity usage we’d spend evenings by candle light. We also began to prioritize which appliances stayed plugged in. The fridge? The water pump? The lights? Another down-side to independence is that in spite of advancements in solar and wind technology, the batteries in which we store our electricity remain old-school lead-acid batteries. These batteries have a lifetime of approximately ten years; they are gnarly to dispose of and not very “eco”.

A few years ago, after much discussion, we decided to invest in and install (what felt like) zillions of solar panels. This would enable us to create our own village-wide power system, and to power our new all-electric car (the Nissan Leaf). We made the even bigger step of connecting to the national grid, with the caveat that we would put back at least two times as much power as we draw from the system. This would enable us to continue to generate solar and wind power, but use the national grid as our “batteries” for storage. We called our system BEDR (Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit). Not all buildings here are connected, but most are. While this all might seem like a no-brainer to anyone living in a “normal” city, it was a very big deal for us. While we all appreciated the convenience and ease, we feared that as the years went on we’d become complacent and less aware of power that we were using.

Would we be able to continue to model an example of moderation and conservation?

In addition to convenience, many of us were excited to demonstrate the power (no pun intended) of community. What if more communities installed solar and wind and put power back into the grid? Perhaps then a few nuclear power plants could be decommissioned, or the tops of the mountains in coal-mining areas of Appalachia could remain intact.

Getting back to Sunday… Some buildings, which are on BEDR, had no power. Some buildings which were running on their own independent systems (households that have chosen not to hook up to BEDR) had power. The Milkweed Mercantile, designed to be a demonstration of many aspects of life here at DR, employs a third option — The Mercantile’s power system includes both batteries and a grid tie. When the grid power goes out, the building can still run off of its batteries. Sunday was an incredibly, wonderfully blustery day, the wind turbine was spinning its little heart out, and the batteries remained 97% full all day.

When the grid went down on Sunday morning, I think it was good for us. We were reminded of just how dependent we have become on cheap, easy power. We had computers and phones to plug in, lights to turn on, fridges and freezers to power — heck, we had a Super Bowl to watch! We were also reminded of the some of the good parts of community living. Because it does, after all, take a village, Cob and company reconvened at the Mercantile for the big game. Everyone stuffed themselves with vegan chili and corn bread, stuffed jalapeños, popcorn and much, much more while watching the game (and booing that particularly annoying vulture commercial). We enjoyed being snowed in together.

Life is good here, with or without power. Sending warm thoughts to all of you!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

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