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Column: My path to a more conservation-minded future

Learn about the many options available for safe, affordable improvements available to reduce your imprint on nature. Work on a plan to make it happen.

Solar panels (Getty Images)

A-step-at-a-time approach has served me well toward reducing the amount of gasoline and power grid electricity I use.

I’ve approached the idea of reducing my energy use from a conservation perspective during the last 20 years and to some degree before that.

My path is just one of many that you can choose that can benefit you and society. Some of us were jarred by the cost of heating oil in 1974 when the price went from about 17 cents a gallon to double that in a few months. The result was that many began heating with wood. For me, that continued for 27 years, so my heating costs were low.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter introduced me to solar, and that solar water heating system is still working almost 40 years later.

About 20 years ago, I drove a small pickup truck that got about 20 miles per gallon. Then I figured out I could do better and purchased a 30 mpg wagon, followed by a hybrid that got 46 mpg. Each of those vehicles served my needs, and now a plug-in hybrid has gotten 57 mpg over the last four years. Someday, not too far off, I hope to be driving an all-electric vehicle.


In 2012, encouraged by tax-credits, I purchased my first photovoltaic array which provided enough electricity for my house for nine months of the year, meaning not enough power for November thru January. So, I began a process of learning what it takes to power my house and my vehicle.

After eight years and four separate increases in solar capacity, I now have 6,500 watts of potential solar output. You need not construct it all at once. I’ve learned through this process that I can run my car on electricity for 5,000-6,000 miles on solar powered electricity each year, while also powering my house plus the latest in air conditioning and heat pump technology.

I don’t need much A/C here, but if you look carefully, heat pump technology has really improved. Heat pumps like mine are rated at 80% efficiency down to -15 degrees. At temps closer to freezing, they are much more efficient than my gas-fired boiler, which is rated 80% efficient at best. If you go to purchase a mini-split for your home, check out the HSPF number which is the heat-producing efficiency number. Numbers above 10 are what you want for heating. By combining the heating efficiency of my mini-split with my boiler running on gas, I’ve just cut my home heating cost in half for November 2021. You can, too, with a properly-designed system.

I’m still learning the best path to take. Learn about the many options available for safe, affordable improvements available to reduce your imprint on nature. Work on a plan to make it happen.

Greg St. Onge lives in Brule.

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