WEST UNION - Four years ago, Sonny and Linda Jobe bought 70 acres of land in Doddridge County as a place to hunt and eventually retire.
As they began to develop the land, they discovered that it would cost $70,000 to extend electricity from the local power company to their property, so they began looking for other options. Their nearest neighbor lives 1 1/2 miles away, and the power lines stop there.
Today, the Jobes, who are both 52, have a 1,069-square-foot home almost totally powered by solar energy.
They are among an estimated 750,000 Americans living without the benefit of public utilities, according to Nick Rosen, author of "Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America."
Some people unplug from the grid to "go green" or to avoid the watchful eye of the government. Although the Jobes' decision to use solar energy was economically driven, they enjoy the lifestyle.
"We got solar out here primarily because we're interested in living where we're at, but we couldn't afford to have the electric put out here," Sonny said.
"But now that we do have solar, electric could be put out here and we wouldn't connect up to it, because not only do we want to get a return on investment, but we would have an electric bill."
The Jobes don't sacrifice modern amenities and comforts.
A tour of their home reveals all the makings of a typical household. They have a telephone, Wi-Fi, LED flat-screen television, running water, heat from a powerful wood furnace and their own security system in the family dog.
For all of that, they have to live constantly aware of the power they are using.
Although Linda and Sonny are far from alone when it comes to generating 100 percent of their own electricity, living completely off the grid isn't for everyone.
Most alternative energy users augment service received from public utilities.
Bill Anderson, a project manager at Milestone Solar Consultants LLC in Falling Waters, Berkeley County, says only 3 percent of solar system sales nationwide are for off-the-grid systems. They are just not practical for most buyers.
Most buy something like a 5-kilowatt system that costs between $25,000 and $30,000. It typically includes about 20 solar panels and generates 40 percent to 60 percent of a household's annual energy usage, he said.
The percentage depends on how much energy a family uses. If the panels are placed on a home's roof, the orientation (north facing vs. south facing) and the pitch of the roof are variables as well.
Sonny and Linda have 18 solar panels set up in their side yard next to their greenhouse. They have two more on the roof that are hooked directly to their water heater. Their 20 panels provide most of their electricity, but their home is only 1,069 square feet. The average U.S. home has 2,480 square feet, according to U.S. Census data.
The Jobes pay close attention to weather patterns, doing the vacuuming and laundry when the sun is shining. They line-dry their clothes.
"We're always energy conscious," Sonny says. "We're always watching what the next day's weather is going to be."
Their system came with a total installation cost of $50,000 - $20,000 less than the cost of extending power lines to their land.
The cost was substantially more than they would have paid for a system that augmented public utilities.
Because their solar panels work independently, they had to be attached to a series of batteries that store and convert the energy collected from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) used by lights and appliances.
The 24 batteries occupy a refrigerator-size space in a storage structure behind the house. The batteries have an approximate life expectancy of 12 years.
The Jobes have yet to replace any of the batteries. When they do, they will have to replace them all at once. That purchase cost them $6,000 in 2009.
The installation and setup costs of solar power can be daunting to people considering alternative energy, but there are incentives to help make solar more attractive.
There is a federal incentive for households like the Jobes'. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows homeowners with Energy Star-approved solar-power systems to claim 30 percent of the cost as a tax credit in the year the system is installed.
All 50 states also offer some sort of solar or wind incentive. West Virginia offers a residential solar energy tax credit of 30 percent or up to $2,000.
West Virginia also is one of 43 states that allow "net metering," according to the U.S. Department of Energy.