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Electric Dreams

When you build your house in a field the usual utilities are not a given, and it’s been no different for us. Water, gas, electricity and sewerage have all been down to what we do.

Some solutions have been easier than others: the builders took care of waste and installed septic tanks; gas is simply a gas tank that connects to our cooker; water comes from a well we drilled on the land; and electricity came from our neighbour about a kilometre away running on cables supported by bamboo poles.

Electricity has been the biggest issue so far and as quickly as possible we wanted connected to the grid.

In an ideal world we’d have gone solar, but there are complications. Off-grid is a big investment - and too big for us at the moment. But with a hybrid system, which would be ideal, we really need connected to the grid. Not to sell back power to the electric authority, as that isn’t being pushed by the government, more for energy supply and security.

We’ve been quoted around THB 400,000 for an off-grid system (about £9-10k), and THB 180,000 for an on-grid hybrid system with no batteries. We think our monthly bills are likely to be around THB 2,000 and a hybrid system should save us around THB 1,500-2,000 a month. I’ve heard of people completely eradicating their bill with a hybrid solar system.

But we need to be on-grid to even think about that. The local electrical authority, called the PEA, have an obligation to provide electricity to people, but to run a new line at their expense but an area - a village or collection of houses - needs to have six bathrooms, presumably connected to six houses. We don’t meet the criteria.

This left us one immediate option. Replace the line connecting us to our neighbours place with a more robust and better installed line direct to the government pylon about 600m away (as the crow flies).

Looking back to the house with poles places through the fields

Our local village, and our address, is not the same as Hana’s family village, but as is the nature of things here we apparently have family connections there too.

Off we went, walking through the rice fields, to plan our route. About half the journey crossed either our or close relative land, so we didn’t anticipate any problems. We were aiming to hit a small public road, and from there we followed the road along to the pylon. It all seemed pretty straightforward.

Work progressed well until we got help

Then people started to help. Word quickly spread about what we were planning and everyone had their own view. Not understanding most of what was going on all I could do is sit back and watch. Watch people and their reactions, and work out their angle.

But people didn’t really have an angle. I’d say it was a mix of not having much to do, so it was something to talk about, just wanting to be heard, and just making sure they didn’t miss out on anything. Oh, and find out something about the new foreigner in the village!

Three days later, after much negotiation, misunderstandings and stress we arrived at a solution.

We decided not to alter the route through a cousin and aunts land border, despite approval being given for this, our own poles being cemented into place, and cabling bought for the route ready to be put in place. Yes, after a full day’s work, that route got blocked.

After agreeing, one of the land owners decided we should sign an agreement - something we wanted to sign with every landlord whose field we went through. We offered rent and a simple agreement that confirmed we had permission. Easy.

Not so. Coming from Bangkok this guy felt it needed something more complex and added a number of clauses.

- by using his land the poles now belonged to him

- at any time he could decide he no longer wanted to poles in his land and they’d be removed at our cost (as they already belonged to him this seemed odd to me)

- after deciding he wanted the poles moved we had one month to move them, after which a THB 1,000 a day fine would come into play

- if at any time on the future we had a disagreement he could request the poles removed and a fine of THB 2,000/month would be back-dated to the date of installation.

With terms like this who could refuse?!

This was all done while saying ‘no problem, we are family, don’t worry’. Families don’t draw up those kind of terms.

The start of the public road and the last village pylon. Our first pole is on the left.

It was a no-brainer to go back to our original plan but it was very frustrating to waste time and energy while people ‘helped’.

After another couple of days work we now have our poles and cables in place, ready for a more secure electricity supply.

Our next hurdle is the PEA officials, who apparently need some encouragement to approve projects.

At least it’s a one-off fine, and not a back-dated monthly payment!

Dudley follows us as we walk along the path of our line.

The end of the public road with our house in the distance. Two terrific aunties live in the hut on the right with their cows in darkness. We’ve given them

some solar lights for now, but they should be able to use our lines later if they want electricity. They probably won’t.

Two aunts work on their land.

The guys at work. Tank, on the right, is a qualified electrician who lives in the village. He’s been terrific.

Poles are easy to remove in the future.

Just waiting for approval.

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