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Barbour County man fights greed with cooking oil

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This guy hasn't been to a gas station in eight years.

He also hasn't paid an electric bill in almost nine years. With a tank of cooking oil in the bed of his diesel truck, he said he can drive from his home in Barbour County to Florida and back.

"I tell you what. There is a major drawback of heating the house and driving the cars on the cooking oil. And that's that you constantly stay hungry. Because you're smelling the French fries all of the time!''

Meet John Prusa, electrical engineer and self-professed mad scientist. He said he remembers that when he saw gas jump from 89 cents to 99 cents a gallon, he made it his personal goal to become energy independent. He's very proud of the fact that it's now been 8 ½ years since he's visited a gas station.

"I don't care if it's somewhere in the oil fields or whether it's a refinery in Texas or whether it's a local guy at the local gas station -- the greed is international. It doesn't have boundaries. It will always show up. And getting rid of that aspect was probably the driving factor of me doing this -- that I'm not at the mercy of somebody else's greed.''

Prusa said a couple years ago when he had two kids in college, five cars on the road and was heating and cooling a 2600-square-foot house, his family saved $20,000 each year. But, he said, everything comes with a price.

"It's not free. Because you have to do Dumpster diving -- you have to get dirty. Look at my hands. It's not free. Then you spill the oil, your wife slips on it -- it's not free, trust me. But the bottom line is that you have the great satisfaction of being independent.''

Independence, free -- these are words that have deep meaning for Prusa. He came a long way to find them.

"I'm a son of the Baptist minister over in Czechoslovakia, which used to be a communist system. As the son of a Baptist minister, I didn't have a future. Not in a communist system. I was labeled to be a laborer and most likely with my personality, I would have ended up in a labor camp and died.''

After several years of trying, Prusa said, he escaped the former Czechoslovakia into a refugee camp in Italy. From there, he made it to the United States and what he calls the great metropolis of Philippi, and the American Dream.

"I loved it here. I started working as an engineer for AB College. Met my wife -- my wife was a student at the time. Then, you know, typical American Dream -- house, kids, white picket fence. I love it here. It reminds me of central Europe with the hills and the jungle and I'll never move from WV. I absolutely love it here.''

Today -- and for years now -- Prusa lives surrounded with tubs of cooking oil, a variety of solar panels, and other energy optimizing instruments.

But can we all drive and heat our homes on cooking oil? Prusa thinks it might be possible if it weren't for a few major obstacles.

"We as a nation are lazy. That's the problem. We would much rather drive a 5-liter SUV and go to the gas station and complain instead of getting dirty and actually doing something about it. That is the problem that I'm seeing the United States -- and I'll defend the U.S. anywhere. We don't do any kind of major change until we are desperate. Until we're like a rat in a corner and we have no other escape -- then we change. Until then we always find the compromises.''

Prusa also believes that large-scale change will most certainly have to come from the bottom up. In that vein, he works today as the director of technology and innovation for a nonprofit, religious-based organization called New Vision that helps low-income families to cut back on energy consumption and save money.


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