Humans of Solar: Steve & Tara Howell

17 Aug, 2021

We speak with everyday Tasmanians who are living off sunshine.

— with Steve & Tara Howell

Steve: I’m a tourism operator, I’m a keen mountain biker, and I’m passionate about sustainability, growing our own veggies and having a good, balanced life. My wife Tara and I have an 18-month-old son, Winton, and we love living off grid and running a business together. No day is anywhere near the same, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tara: I grew up in the middle of Launceston—Steve calls me a city slicker! When we moved to Lalla I embraced the lifestyle change. I learnt to split wood and use a chainsaw!

Steve: As a young kid, I spent time with little Dick Smith electronics kits, setting up circuits and lights and switches and motors. I always had an appreciation for how exciting electricity was. I remember thinking how cool it would be to have a cubby-style tree house or cabin that’s completely tucked away in the middle of nowhere. I guess, if you’re going to have that you’ve got to be familiar with the idea of being off the grid.

Tara: It was in 2016 that we decided to start a multi-day, luxury adventure mountain-bike experience based in the exploding trail network that was Derby. The Blue Derby Pods Ride project included our own exclusive accommodation within the mountain bike trail network and we didn’t know much at all about being off-grid.

Steve: I took the architect’s plans to Marty at Mode Electrical and said, ‘Can you help?’ The pods were kilometres away from any infrastructure, so it definitely needed to be stand-alone. I think he took pity on me because I was so young and naive! Without being an electrical consultant for us as such, out of the kindness of his heart, he set us on the right track and mapped out how we should do it.

When we built that facility and started using it, we worked out just how easy it is to go off-grid. A couple of years later when we built our own home, it was a no-brainer to go off-grid there too. We love the idea of being self-sufficient. Love the idea of never getting a power bill and not being beholden to anyone but ourselves. We run a  dishwasher, washing machine, toaster, sandwich maker, fridge, freezer—all our appliances—and it’s really not much of an imposition, if any, when you get the system right. Once you live off grid you definitely won’t want to go back.

Tara: It’s about escaping the rat race for us. We don’t want to have to be in the office by 8:30am and stay there until 5:30pm. Even though we’re sometimes doing unglamorous jobs very late at night, we are in control. If it’s a stunningly sunny day, we can choose to have a slower morning, breakfast outside on the deck together, and then get cracking with our day. We can adjust our day to suit our moods, how much sleep we’ve had and our desires. We find that a more productive way to live.

Steve: I think it’s really important in 2021 for people to understand where their food and electricity comes from, and all the impacts they’re having with their choices day to day. It’s so easy to flick the lights on and plug in the hairdryer and not think about what is actually generating that power. Or go to the supermarket and grab a whole lot of food without considering where it’s come from and what’s been done to it. That’s an important lesson for kids too. We just love that Winton has only been able to walk for six months but he walks himself out to the veggie garden to find a strawberry or tomato and he knows that he can eat it and that he’s helped to plant it and grow it.