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Area farmers learn benefits of renewable energy in workshop

A well-attended workshop provided area farmers with information on the benefits of using renewable solar
Rob Harlan

Jasmine O’Halloran–Han


A well-attended workshop provided area farmers with information on the benefits of using renewable solar and wind energy sources at the Eckville Community Centre last Thursday.

Rob Harlan, executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta, discussed the benefits of solar panels, while Dr. Tim Weis, policy director for the Canadian  Wind Energy Association, discussed the benefits of wind energy.

Different topics were discussed, such as the benefits of using solar panels and wind turbines, choosing a provider, generating and selling power, hiring a contractor and the benefits of buying locally as opposed to online.

Harlan said the event proved helpful for farmers to attend as they are used to making intelligent, long-range financial investments and have solar access with little shading on their land.

“I think most of the farmers are interested in reducing their bills and putting in a utility inter-tie solar system on their farm,” Harlan said. “It’s the electric technology they are interested in. They want to be small power producers and sell it to the grid.”

Harlan said the alternative energy sources are necessary in battling pollution, rising costs and the finite nature of fossil fuels, and global warming.

“The whole world is making a transition towards a less expensive renewable source of energy,” Harlan said. “Alberta has the opportunity to join that process, and the long-range benefits are significant.”

One of the most prominent benefits of using renewable energy is financial savings; after the initial investment has been made, there aren’t any ongoing fuel or maintenance costs.

“They last a long time,” Harlan said. “They could last 30 or 40 years, so the economics of it are really compelling. The original solar cell that was invented in the 1950s is still running.”

There may be a perception that renewable energy is more expensive, Weis said. But he assured that isn’t the case.

“The trick with renewables is all the money is up front,” he said. “That’s the trick and (also) where the downside is. It may make sense in the long run, but you still need all the money up front. You need two things: you need to get that money up front and that project has to work for a long time.”

The investment cost is scale dependent, but Weis said investments range anywhere from five or six thousand dollars to 20 or 30 thousand dollars. He said that some farmers in Lethbridge were buying half-million-dollar machines and selling the power into the grids.

“Right now the province is really heavy in oil and gas and fossil fuels,” Weis said. “That’s not only on the oil and gas side of things, it’s also on the electricity side. We’re not here to talk about a 100-per cent switch overnight, but how do you ultimately diversify the portfolio? I think this is why people are interested in this; the timing is good now. Costs have come down so much.”

The workshop was hosted jointly by Clearwater County, Lacombe County and Red Deer County.