Solar PV program for farmers an important first step
While the timing might be suspect, it's time rural Alberta took advantage of its abundant sunshine
by Duncan Kinney
Earlier this week the government of Alberta announced the Solar PV Equipment Pilot Program. The program provides fairly modest amounts of money to farmers to build grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their land. Farmers end up selling any excess electricity they don’t use back into the grid at the retail prices they pay for that particular month.
If you’re eligible for purple gas, you’re eligible for the program. In a smart move, the solar assessments are free of charge and the funding available depends on the size of the system. The maximum available is $19,500 for a project.
I chatted with Kyle Kasawski of Provident Solar about the program. Kasawski founded ETI Solar in 2002 which was acquired by the large German concern Conergy in 2007. He struck out on his own in 2010 and has been doing solar PV design, installation and consulting ever since.
Kasawski had some advance notice about the program and is currently working with a couple of farmer clients to get them generating electricity from the sun.
“It’s a four per cent return for the guys I’m helping out which is better than a GIC,” says Kasawski.
“No one’s making bags of money off of this program but for the people who were thinking about it, it gives that extra little push.”
While the systems provide a modest financial return over time they also help moderate electricity price spikes for the people who have them. When the price of electricity goes up that’s the rate the farmer gets paid for the electricity they kick into the grid.
“It’s always been the farmers who are first on this. They were first in Germany, they were first in Ontario. They just get energy,” says Kasawski.
The reason that farmers were first in Germany and Ontario was because of what’s called a feed-in tariff, where renewable energy producers get guaranteed above-market rates for the electricity they produce making it a much more attractive investment. Alberta does not have a feed-in tariff program.
With an election right around the corner it’s easy to make cynical observations about the timing of this particular program. But the benefits of more and more Albertans realizing and taking advantage of our abundant renewable resources are so great that it is worth holding your nose in this case, especially since the program is so small.