By: Ashley Robinson
Farmers have always followed natural progression when it comes to technology.
“(Farmers aren’t) using horses to plow their fields anymore. Solar’s just kind of another step that allows them to be competitive and control the cost that’s a business expense,” said Nathan Jones, solar energy advisor with miEnergy.
Jones was at Canada’s Farm Progress Show last week to give presentations about farms switching to solar power. MiEnergy, a Saskatoon-based company, has been in the renewable energy industry for 15 years, first with geothermal and then expanding four years ago into solar energy.
Since entering the solar business, miEnergy has seen business steadily increase over the years — half of business now comes from farms, according to Jones.
Power bills for farms can be high since farmers are often operating both a business and living onsite. Jones said that with solar energy there is a large upfront cost but in the long run it pays off as the customer can control the cost of their power bill.
“You’re taking control of your power generation, which I think is empowering and allows a piece of mind knowing that (you’re) not going to be paying more every year for power,” he said.
This past year, SaskPower increased its rates by 8.5 per cent. With solar power, in the long run customers don’t have to worry about being affected by rate hikes Jones said.
According to SaskPower, interest in renewable energy sources has been growing. Recently the Crown corporation completed a series of stakeholder engagement surveys across the province.
“As we’ve seen in the growth of some of our (renewable energy) programs that we offer, there has been some definite interest from some of our farming customers across the province,” said Janson Anderson, director of customer programs with SaskPower.
SaskPower has two programs for solar power. The net metering program allows SaskPower customers the ability to offset their power consumption. The small power producer program allows customers to sell back the extra power they generate.
There are currently about 600 SaskPower customers who use the net metering program for solar energy. The small power producers program isn’t as popular, with only 20 clients currently using the system, though there has been rising interest.
Of note, SaskPower has found more interest in solar power from people in rural areas over those in urban areas.
“One of the reasons, probably, we’ve seen the numbers be a little bit higher in the rural scenarios is the lack of obstructions, the more available space, both installing for ground mount type solar as well as for rooftop solar scenarios,” Anderson said.
In rural areas people have an easier time positioning the solar energy system south to get the best maximum production. Rural residents also don’t have as many neighbours to deal with who create shade, which affects solar production.
SaskPower has been promoting alternative energy sources such as solar as part of its long-term goals to reduce power emissions by 2030 by about 40 per cent from 2005 levels.