The Telegram (St. John's)
The largest private solar panel array in Maritimes
Electrical contractor installs 350-panel system
As a farmer, one would expect Greg Gerrits to enjoy seeing the sun.
It’s important to the growth of his crops at Elmridge Farm, after all. But the sun also — if it co-operates — provides power for the third-generation family farm in Atlanta, near Canning, N.S.
Last fall, Gerrits finished installation of a 100-kilowatt solar energy system which produces enough electricity to cover almost all the farm’s needs. There are no batteries, with the power going right to the grid through a meter. If the farm produces more power than it uses in a year, it gets a credit.
It’s the largest private system in the Maritimes.
Gerrits said it took three years to design and install the system while cutting through some red tape.
The $500,000 project is economically viable, he said, and the payments on the system are close to what his monthly power costs are.
“In the short term it’s costing just a little bit more, in the medium term it’s even or better, and in the long term I’m way, way ahead,” Gerrits said.
“I figure the next time the power goes up we’re even, and the time after that we’re making money. The whole thing should pay for itself in about 15 years, and it has a 30-year predicted lifespan.”
But money wasn’t the primary factor for Gerrits, who grows the majority of his crops without pesticides. The environment is.
“When it comes down to it, it’s the right thing to do,” Gerrits said. “(The environment) is the main driver. I always tell everybody, if money was important to me, I wouldn’t be farming.”
He said that in the first week, when the skies were cloudy, the system produced a third of its maximum generating capacity but still offset the pollution that would have been created by burning 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
“You’re looking at, when it’s sunny, almost 25,000 litres of diesel-worth of pollution offset in a week, so that number really hits home.”
Gerrits said he has wanted to use solar power for about decade.
The panels have new technology that can gather energy from both sides of the panel, and prevents them from degrading as fast as older models.
The biggest power needs on the farm are for the coolers for the harvested crops, but there is also regular welding in the garage, along with lights, and electric heat in the bunkhouses for workers.
“We’re trying to be as efficient as we can be,” Gerrits said. “We switched everything out to LED lights, and this and that and the other thing, but we still use a fair bit of power.”
The 350-panel system was installed by M.B. Eye Electrical of Prince Edward Island. Owner Matt Eye said it is the largest privately-owned solar system in the Maritimes and was the largest overall until a month ago, when a 200-kilowatt system went online for the City of Charlottetown.
Eye said he has been pushing solar energy systems for nine years while running his electrical contracting company, but without government incentives it was initially a hard sell.
“With power rates on the rise, in the last four years it has become full-time employment,” he said. “It’s definitely changing.”
He said public interest has increased so much that solar has become its own division of his business.