West Virginia Czech Émigré Off the Energy Grid

  • What was once a swimming pool is now where Prusa tests various solar panels and optimizing mechanisms like trackers which move the panels incrementally from east to west tracking the sun an improving the panels' efficiency by up to 40 percent. Photo: Glynis Board

  • Prusa keeps blue gill and catfish and hopes to add trout. He says when he eats some of the fish, he has to be sure to take out some of the plants, otherwise they'll dwindle and die from lack of nutrition. Photo: Glynis Board

August 2, 2013
By Glynis Board

John Prusa also hasn't paid an electric bill in almost nine years. And with a tank of cooking oil in the bed of his diesel truck, he says he can drive from his home in Barbour County to Florida and back.

“I tell you what. There is a major draw-back of heating the house and driving the cars on the cooking oil. And that’s that you constantly stay hungry. Because you’re smelling the French fries all of the time!” Prusa says.

Prusa is an electrical engineer and self-professed mad scientist. He says he remembers that when he saw gas jump from $.89 to $.99 a gallon, he made it his personal goal to become energy independent. He’s very proud of the fact that it’s now been eight and a half years since he’s visited a gas station.

“I don’t care if it’s somewhere in the oil fields or whether it’s a refinery in Texas or whether it’s a local guy at the local gas station—the greed is international. It doesn’t have boundaries. It will always show up. And getting rid of that aspect was probably the driving factor of me doing this—that I’m not at the mercy of somebody else’s greed,” he says.

Prusa says a couple years ago when he had two kids in college, five cars on the road, and was heating and cooling a 2600 square foot house, his family saved $20,000 each year. But he says everything comes with a price.

“It’s not free. Because you have to do dumpster diving, you have to get dirty. Look at my hands. It’s not free. Then you spill the oil, your wife slips on it—it’s not free, trust me. But the bottom line is that you have the great satisfaction of being independent,” says Prusa.

Independence, free—these are words that have deep meaning for Prusa. He came a long way to find them.

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