Master Electrician Leonard O'Donovan turned to solar electricity to power his cabin rather than pay $50,000 to get on the grid.

The president and owner of West Linn Electrical Inc., Oregon City, Ore., hired Willow Creek Construction of Toledo, Ore., to construct his cabin off-grid in the Coast Range Mountains.

“We had this piece of property that was 1½ miles from the power lines, so we started to research alternative power,” O'Donovan said.

The cabin, which was named Cabin Creek Ranch after a creek that flows through the 96-acre property, has a wood stove in the main living area, a propane-powered kitchen stove, water heater and gas heater and a line for a future propane generator. A separate block building houses the inverter, batteries and other photovoltaic equipment.

“The system is fed from solar panels and a water turbine in the creek,” he said. “A three-way bypass switch allows switching from solar to water turbines.”

O'Donovan took advantage of Oregon's small-scale energy loan program, which has a current rate of 15 years at 7.25% interest.

“These funds are available for energy-related projects such as insulation, lighting, energy-efficient windows and alternative energy and can include related cost, engineering, permits and design,” he said. The state of Oregon also offers energy tax credits.”

O'Donovan gained experience with solar panels, inverters and batteries while installing his cabin's photovoltaic system, but he first learned about solar energy while working for Exxon.

“I installed solar systems for remote well sites that communicated to a main plant via Motorola Radio,” he said. “We used solar power to run our computers.”

A lot has changed since those days, he said.

“Today's technology and inverters are more sophisticated,” he said. “I've had to understand a water turbine, how much power you can use in a solar-powered house and the capacity of batteries. It's definitely a learning curve.”

O'Donovan and his wife now run a commercial electrical construction business based in Oregon City, Ore., and have recently remodeled three elementary schools with new voice/data upgrades, fire alarm addressable systems and intercom system extensions. After more than a decade in the industry, they are thinking about launching a solar business.

“It's a lot more fun,” he said. “I've done commercial for 12 years and you have so many contacts and suppliers. With solar, you can work with one or two suppliers and the homeowner.”

He said he will soon start publicizing his new specialty by launching a Web page and running an ad in the Capitol Press, a farm paper that is distributed at feed stores. O'Donovan also plans on exhibiting at log cabin trade shows by building a photovoltaic system on a trailer and carrying it into the exhibition hall.

“I want to teach people how the system works and how they can live in a solar-powered home,” he said.

For more information, e-mail O'Donovan at