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Chief Atleo's off-the-grid experience: paddling over TV

B.C.'s Regional Chief to the Assembly of First Nations lives entirely off the grid at his home in a tiny village off the west coast of Vancouver Island. You might say he already gets the idea of energy conservation.

Shawn Atleo and partner Nancy have maintained their small footprint for the last three years, thanks to the ten 48-watt panels that power their island home in Ahoushat. Their house has no freezer or television and is virtually free of appliances. With a primary source of heat a wood stove and a propane heater as a secondary source, there’s a reluctance to cut down trees and carry in 100-pound propane tanks.

To offset the chill, they wear sweaters and slippers. They also compost and keep worm gardens. Next to camping out, it’s the greenest lifestyle possible.

“I can’t have a hot tub,” says Nancy, seated across from her husband at a recent photo shoot for BC Hydro Power Smart.

Atleo laughs. “I don’t consider a hot tub a setback. We have a natural hot springs. Now, no freezer is a big setback.”

“We got a toaster last year,” adds Nancy. “That was interesting. It draws a lot of power.”

“Too much power,” interjects Atleo. “Never leave it plugged in. It has a phantom load.”

They dry their clothes on a clothesline, which means they pray for sunny days. They use a stove top percolator instead of a coffee maker. They can their fish since they can’t freeze it. If they have a house full of overnight guests, the washing of multiple sheets is daunting.

But they agree that the benefits to a grid-free life far outweigh the challenges.

“We talk, we read, the [grown] kids play games,” says Nancy.

“It’s amazing how nice it is without a television,” says Atleo. “You get outside more, all year round... I get out for morning and evening paddles.”

Atleo and Nancy are also in the process of downsizing by selling their 3,200 sq. ft. home in Nanaimo, in which they raised their children. Instead, they plan on finding a small apartment in Nanaimo to serve as a part-time base (Atleo travels internationally, and he flies out of Nanaimo).

Because they had become experts in energy conservation by living on Ahoushat, they knew how to upgrade their 20-year-old Nanaimo home as well. Nancy conducted most of the research and found the benefits of sealing the doors and windows, and ensuring a good exchange of air throughout the house, as well as upgrading the insulation.

“[Power Smart] put it through the battery of tests, and they said it ranked just a little over the standards of new home construction,” says Atleo. “It’s a really energy efficient home that we have — super energy efficient.”

The low-energy effort also ties in with First Nations roots, which are a back-to-basics way of life that Atleo wants to revitalize.

“It’s absolutely noticeable, and it saves money,” says Atleo. “It’s not that difficult. We applied the same principles.

“It was all about learning what it takes when you don’t have the connection to the grid. And obviously, there’s my work history with First Nations, who’ve lived a very sustainable way in harmony with the environment. And it’s such a disharmonious existence we have now, with consumption and energy, and use of natural resources that is way beyond what we need.

“The very basic principle of our teachings is not to take more than what you need. Well, we’re taking more than we need.”

The upside, he says, is that young people in his 900-strong village are embracing movements to recycle and conserve.

“There is a political shift happening, with climate change and the environmental movement, and it’s not coming from politicians down — it’s coming from the people.

“And companies are being sent messages — like Hydro. I think they are wisely responding to business opportunities, but also I think giving expression to good corporate citizenship and responsibility, which is heartening to see.”

While his home life is exemplary as far as conservation is concerned, it’s his need to travel for work that has proven the biggest challenge.

“Travel is my No. 1 challenge on my impact on the issue of carbon emissions,” says Atleo.

To offset his constant travel demands for work, he is beginning to use video teleconferencing and he’s also working on bringing high speed Internet to his Ahoushat home. The technology would allow him to communicate remotely, thereby reducing his need for travel.

But the challenge for him is a personal one as well. As a child he grew up in playgrounds soaked with fuel from diesel generators. To this day, he says, there are about 60 communities that still rely on diesel generators for power. He sees a link between the environmental movement and improving social ills for First Nations. “It’s about young people saying, ‘We might be in a remote community, but we can do the recycling, we can still be concerned with and have a positive impact on climate change with our actions on day to day basis.’

“And that in turn can instill a sense of responsibility and pride in people,” he says. “So if First Nations can find newer ways to take up the challenge to return as leaders to stewardship, and also find new ways to create opportunities and [environmentally related] businesses from them to stimulate the economy so that people can have the dignity of jobs as well, that’s the road back to dealing with things like social problems and suicides, social ills.

“And that’s how this links in powerfully for me when I was asked to be involved.”

Source: BC Hydro News