On Canadian farms, renewable energy is growing

According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada’s agricultural census, the number of Canadian farms’ number reporting utilization of renewable power has over doubled in the last five years. Over 22,500 farms across the country reported producing renewable energy, up from just over 10,000 in 2016. Solar power is the most significant contributor to this increase, with over 14,000 of the 22,000 farms selecting it as their preferred renewable energy source.

Heather Mackenzie, executive director of advocacy group Solar Alberta, described the rise in renewable energy on farms as “huge.” “I’d say the bulk of my solar calls these days come from rural Alberta,” Mackenzie remarked. She added the agrivoltaic operations concept, which uses the land for both PV panels and agricultural output, appears to be a trend that is growing interest in solar.

“A lot of the larger, utility-scale generation is on farmland, and when it’s on good farmland, they’re integrating livestock or agricultural production with solar PV,” she explained. Innisfail did lease municipal land to a solar producing firm, which is also utilized as a sheep ranch, according to Mackenzie.

Irrigation pumps are increasingly powered by solar, according to Mackenzie, which presents an excellent opportunity to reuse used panels. “Solar panels can last for 25 to 40 years or more; they just don’t produce as much as they used to,” she explained. “If your main purpose is to irrigate, you don’t need a top-of-the-line panel.  It’s fantastic because you aren’t trying to profit off the panel.”

In addition, she explained, additional solar panels are being installed over open canals to assist reduce evaporation while also creating electricity. Statistics Canada attributes the development of on-farm renewable energy generation to government initiatives, while the owner of an Edmonton-centered renewable energy company claims that those programs have dried up.

Mikhail Ivanchikov of Dandelion Renewables stated that programs like the Growing Forward initiative, which is a joint federal-provincial project for on-farm solar, as well as an Alberta program supported by the provincial carbon tax on large CO2 emitters that hasn’t been renewed, have been tremendously effective.

However, there are none currently available for farmers to offset costs by using renewables. Only residential programs are now financed, according to Ivanchikov. “They abandoned the farmers in the dark.”

However, he believes that on-farm solar does have value, citing the rising cost of electricity across the country as evidence. “It’s difficult for the farming sector to regulate that,” he added. “It’s a risk if prices continue to rise.  Having some influence over power prices is critical for farmers.”

Most solar projects, according to Ivanchikov, will endure for 25 years, with a 10 to 15-year payback period. Solar panels, on the other hand, aren’t a priority for producers due to increased input prices. “Certainly, government support was going to go a long way in providing that the farming industry is shielded from electricity price variations in the long run,” he said.

The Canadian government has stated that it is dedicated to reducing carbon emissions in agriculture, which accounts for 10% of total national emissions. The application process for the federal Agricultural Clean Technology Program was put on hold earlier this year due to excessive demand.

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