A remote island ditched fossil fuels in just 2 years. Here's how they did it.

Small towns often have a lot of pride in being independent. But it's hard to get more independent than T'au.

Image from SolarCity/YouTube.

Ta'u is a beautiful island full of tropical forests and amazing beaches. It's part of American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States. But for technically being part of the United States, it's really, really far away.


How far? It's over 4,000 miles away from the continental United States. In fact, it's actually closer to Australia than America.

Image from The National Park Service.

For years, T'au's roughly 600 residents have gotten their electricity from diesel generators.

They get the diesel from overseas, and it's brought in on ships. That can be a problem because when you're that far away, you can't always count on everything working out perfectly. Storms or bad weather can keep the ships away. If the ships don't come in, the island doesn't get power.

“I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months,” Keith Ahsoon told SolarCity. That's two months of rationing for homes, hospitals, even the island's freshwater pumps.

"It's hard to live not knowing what's going to happen. I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems."

But now, the residents of T'au decided to change things up: They're ditching the diesel and going truly independent.

Image from SolarCity/YouTube.

Instead of relying on the sometimes-unreliable shipments of diesel fuel, Ta'u and American Samoa worked with Tesla and SolarCity to build a giant solar-powered microgrid.

How big is it? The grid will produce as much power every year as 109,500 gallons of diesel fuel — enough to basically run the entire island off solar energy. Nearly 100%. And cloudy days? Not a problem. They've installed about 60 of SolarCity's Powerpacks. These mega-batteries will store the extra power Ta'u gets from the tropical sun and distribute it at night. They can run the entire island for three days, if need be.

Image from SolarCity/YouTube.

This kind of grid costs a bit to build, but now all the money that was going abroad for fuel can stay in Samoa.

According to Radio New Zealand, the microgrid took two years to build and cost about $8 million. That's a pretty penny, but it could turn out to be a pretty good investment because the diesel cost American Samoa about $400,000 a year, says The Guardian.

"Before today, every time we turned on the light, turn on the television, turn on maybe the air conditioner, all of the cash registers in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia go 'cha-ching,' but not after today," Jon Yoshimura of SolarCity told Radio New Zealand. "We will keep more of that money here, where it belongs."

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior also chipped in. A similar project is in the works for another nearby island too. And Utu Abe Malae, head of the American Samoa Power Authority, told The Guardian that American Samoa hopes to be fully solar-powered by 2040.

There are a lot of reasons people are looking into renewable energy. Energy independence is one of them.

In the future, we may see small communities like T'au all across the United States declaring their energy independence.

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When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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