Solar pioneer Rebekah Carpenter’s roundabout path to success

Rebekah Carpenter brings her long-standing expertise to work for her company, Fingerlakes Renewables Solar Energy, in New York City.
Photo by Aur Bec

The opportunity to install solar electric systems presented itself to off-grid energy pioneer Rebekah Carpenter in the form of an offer to travel to Mali in West Africa. She would be responsible for installing an off-grid system – if she could learn the trade first. Twenty years later, solar has become a part of who she is, who is the founder of Fingerlakes Renewables in Ithaca, NY, where she has built longevity in a once volatile industry, overcoming inflation, early and removing subsidies, technology wins losses and increases in utility prices. MOTHER EARTH NEWS blogger Aur Beck recently spent some time chatting with Rebekah. The interview is edited for clarity.

Living off the grid, none of my daily needs require the electrical, gas or oil infrastructure to operate. For me, living off the grid isn’t a heroic statement about self-sufficiency – everything I’ve built has been on the shoulders of giants before me – but it’s a matter of function: if disaster does occur, I could continue my fairly fluid lifestyle with little upheaval or change.

It’s my return to a more intentional relationship with everyday function. Investing time and money in an infrastructure that does not require the continuous work of anyone else to maintain creates a sort of island; the number of people and households involved in off-grid lifestyles may vary, but there is a greater aspect of inner communication rather than outer involvement in this circle.

This intentionality means living on a budget based on intangible resources – like the total number of hours of sunshine per day – rather than representative resources, like cash sent to the utility. In a grid frame there is an illusion, if not a reality, of infinite availability throughout the day. The cost calculation comes after consumption. Off-grid, there is a finite resource that can be expanded if the cost calculation precedes consumption and therefore is more of an investment than a payment.

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About Lois Mendez

Lois Mendez

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