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Power-crunched Californians see the solar light

CUYAMACA WOODS, California (CNN) -- Many Californians are enduring pricey electric bills and rolling power outages during the current energy crunch. But some residents have avoided such headaches by getting themselves off the electrical grid and on alternative energy.

Bob and Maribeth Foster are quite the "power couple" in their remote southern California subdivision. They have plenty of the appliances that other families have, such as a television, computer and full-sized refrigerator.

With technology from solar power to home generators, more people are filling their own power needs. CNN's Rick Lockridge reports (May 31)

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But unlike most other Californians, the Fosters aren't worried that power shortages will leave them in the dark, because they run their own electric company.

The couple resides in a house completely powered by solar power. So do dozens of other families that live in the same mountainside community, about 60 miles from San Diego. That is because there is no power grid for them to tap. All must generate their own juice.

"Right now the sun is beginning to set, we're generating about nine amps," said Bob Foster, who regularly looks over wattage reports and visits a power-shed on the property.

Going solar is expensive. The Fosters spent about $15,000 on the solar system and a rarely used backup generator.

Each 50-watt panel costs about $300 dollars. Artist Fay McQueen has only the bare minimum to get by.

"I only have eight panels right now, so I'll think, well, tonight I can only watch TV for two hours," she said.

Getting relief

But there is plenty of satisfaction from being off the power grid.

"I think, my gosh! What a time to be living on solar! It feels really good," she said.

Down the mountainside, the musical Jones family is really trying to do more with less. They support their bluegrass band, violin repair business and a small winery with just eight 40-watt panels and a small generator.

"It can be interesting. When people are here late at night, we tell them, always keep a flashlight nearby. Or if the lights go off, just stand still. We'll get it back on," laughs David Noel Jones.

Advances in solar and particularly fuel cell technology will one day enable each household to operate a power plant, scientists predict.

When that day comes, the people who live in Cuyamaca Woods will have a perfect right to say, "What took you so long?"

• National Energy Policy

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