Solar energy has made its way to the forefront of Canada’s green energy movement and now, with provinces heavily investing in the sustained development of solar power, Canada’s farmers will be playing a large role in the expansion of this green future.
In February Alberta announced its investment of $5-million into an energy project aimed at encouraging farmers to install solar panels on their property, making Alberta the most recent province to promote the importance of solar power in modern agriculture. This money is intended to help streamline the expense of operating a farm and encourage farmers to seek green alternatives to powering their farms. The investment is part of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan which, by 2025, aims to reduce methane gas emissions by 45 per cent.
Provinces like British Colombia, Saskatchewan and Quebec have made similar investments in solar infrastructures in recent years but Ontario and Alberta have been the largest advocates for the use of solar power on farms. Ben Weir says this is because Ontario and Alberta have recognized the potential in cleared farmland.
“There’s been an increased interest in ground mount projects as opposed to rooftop projects. This is the first time in a very long time that there have been more megawatts applied for of ground mount projects than there have been of rooftop projects,” said Weir, Director of Policy & Regulatory Affairs at Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA).
A roof mount solar project is when solar panels are installed on the rooftops of office buildings and residences, utilizing the unused space to generate power. However roof mount solar projects tend to be small scale, generating small amounts of power and offering little financial return to the beneficiary. Ground mount solar projects ─ where solar panels are installed in fields and open spaces ─ are much more substantial, allowing beneficiaries to send large quantities of power back into the local power grid for profit.
“The easiest place to build these things obviously is on flat cleared land and so when you’re talking about where that exists it’s generally out in rural areas and in the agricultural community,” said Weir.
Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program offers similar financial incentives to Alberta’s new program, offering farmers above the retail power price for solar energy that is fed into their local power grid.
According to CanSIA, farmers in Ontario will be paid 20.9 cents per kilowatt hour for any solar energy fed back into the power grid, 3 cents more than the 17.9 cent peak hour maximum price for electricity in Ontario. This allows farmers to make money from their solar panels, enabling them to pay off the installation fees while eventually adding an additional revenue source to their farms.
“Ontario has by far the most solar power. Ontario has more than twice what the rest of the country would have put together,” said Dick Bakker, president of the Ottawa Renewable Energy Association.
“Ontario is doing a better job than the rest of the country, but it’s not doing a great job,” Bakker continued.
While the government of Ontario is making progressive investments in solar energy, he says its efforts are not aggressive enough to diversify Ontario’s energy system in any meaningful way.
“They’re still pursuing nuclear power plants,” Bakker explains.
“Every new nuclear plant precludes more diversified energy. It’s a great big power plant in one place that forces the whole grid around it to gear to that big source of power, so it locks everything. Ontario has 50 to 60 per cent of its power from nuclear, so that makes it hard to add more renewable,“ Bakker said.
Despite the slow progress, many farmers across Canada are excited by the recent examples being set by Alberta and Ontario.
“I’m really impressed with the government of Ontario and how they managed to do that whole FIT program, I mean it made solar panels pop up everywhere,” said Robin Turner, owner of Roots and Shoots Organic Farm in La Peche Quebec.
“I think it’s important that we get off the dirty fuel, like nuclear, coal, natural gas turbines, that kind of stuff,” Turner continued.
Turner says that if the province of Quebec was able to provide a similar financial return for solar energy he would consider installing solar panels, which would allow his farm to increase profits while benefiting the environment.
With Ontario and Alberta spearheading the agricultural solar energy movement, farmers in other provinces are beginning to expect similar incentives in the near future.
“I would love to have solar power that feeds back into the grid,” Turner said enthusiastically.