Solar panels will bring farm’s annual energy consumption to net zero
By: Cameron MacLean
A dairy farm in southern Manitoba will soon boast the largest solar energy installation in the province.
Hans Gorter is getting 540 panels, each with an area of 1.4 to 1.6 square metres, installed on his 130-cow dairy farm in Otterburne, about 45 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
The system, which cost Gorter $500,000, received a $175,000 rebate through a program offered by Manitoba Hydro. It will generate close to 200,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually.
If everything works properly, the system will bring Gorter’s annual energy consumption to net zero.
“For us, that is a logical choice. If there’s technology out there that is beneficial for that, then we are looking into it to see if we can use it.”
The installation costs will be paid off in the next eight to 10 years, Gorter said.
In addition to reducing his carbon footprint, Gorter said the solar system gives him control over his energy costs.
“We know for the next 25 years what Hydro will cost us. If this thing works, the investment we make today will pay off. We will [have] zero electricity bill until these panels are worn out,” he said.
Winnipeg-based Sycamore Energy, which operates as Solar Manitoba in this province, is installing the panels on Gorter’s farm. Sycamore president Justin Phillips said the company has either installed or plans to install solar panels on close to 60 farms in Manitoba.
Over the last six months, the company has repeatedly broken its own records for the largest solar projects in Manitoba, Phillips said, starting with a 20-kilowatt job in MacGregor in February, then a 70-kilowatt project in Rivers completed in April.
“Solar technology is new here in the province. We’re not used to seeing this type technology, but it’s not new to the world. This is 30-, 40-year-old technology that has been around a long time.”
Gorter, who moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 1987, said friends and family in Europe are already familiar with solar technology.
“Europe seems to adapt quite quickly and in Canada we seem to think that we’re very comfortable the way we are. I think that there is a change coming and there’s a benefit for my farm to change energy from a commodity to a production thing,” he said.
Wayne Clayton, chair of the Manitoba Sustainable Energy Association, said farmers can benefit from solar energy in a variety of ways.
“Manitoba farmers are very conscious about their impact on the environment as well as the impact the environment has on them and their businesses, as they live in it every day,” he said.
“Just with the sun that we have in Manitoba, we’re an ideal place to put solar panels in Canada.”
The economic benefits of switching to solar also extend to the rest of Manitoba by reducing the amount of money flowing out of the province through the purchase of carbon fuels, potentially saving money and creating jobs, Clayton said.
Manitoba Hydro’s solar energy program, which ends in 2018, has approved 368 applications for funding. As of Aug. 10, 2017, the program has given $1,083,415 to 88 completed installations, generating a combined total of one megawatt of DC power, a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson said.
For comparison, the total capacity of the Limestone Generating Station is approximately 1350 megawatts (AC), the spokesperson said.