At first glance, other than the wind turbine turning lazily to the west of the driveway, Paul McLauchlin’s quarter section northeast of Rimbey fits the mold of any such farm in rural Alberta.
Ducks splash about happily in puddles in the front yard and, as far as the eye can see, acres of rolling fields stretch out to meet the cover of green forest.
It’s tranquility at its best but the cost of such tranquility can be expensive and environmentally detrimental.
However, for McLauchlin, a Ponoka County councilor and owner of MCA Environmental Management, a rural lifestyle means using solar and wind power and going “green” as much as possible.
It’s definitely cheaper, and even though a heating bill that hovers below $500 annually is no small payback for McLauchlin’s out-of-the-box thinking, environmental concerns were the primary motivator for him to go ahead with the project, he said.
“I’m still part of the system but I wanted to be as environmentally friendly as possible and decrease my own carbon footprint.”
McLauchlin’s office is designed as a net zero building, designed and built with the help of Levi Blackmore of RoyL Construction.
The two-storey 2,000 square-foot building is designed using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) considerations. Windows are triple-paned and its double walls are insulated with fibre wool.
“I suspect it is at least silver (according to LEED accreditation), if audited. We have not had it audited,” he said.
McLauchlin also has installed a Cansolair. The system, designed in Newfoundland, is made up of more than 200 beer and pop cans cut so as to create fins which create turbulence in the air as it moves through the cans. The system heats 1,000 square feet of office space year-round, even throughout January and December.
McLauchlin’s office is powered by a grid intertie 1.8 kw 90-foot skystream turbine installed about three years ago. The REC solar panels with a Fronius 2,000 inverter were put up recently. Both the panels and wind turbine were installed with the help of Pieter Broere and Gillis Demers. Electrical connections were done with the help of Larry Hawkings of El Hawk.
The solar panels and wind turbine peak at 4.4 kilowatts an hour.
“My office uses 700 watts an hour or 0.7 kwh during the work day and .075 at night,” he said. “Therefore the energy production of the office is net positive with unused power being used by the farm and the house, and if it is not used it goes to the grid.
McLauchlin anticipates Alberta will begin to take advantage of the solar energy in the future, noting solar panels work best in cold, sunny conditions.
He believes solar energy, largely untapped in Alberta, is a huge resource that needs to be taken advantage of.
“Solar energy is so untapped here.”
He noted that Germany has 18,000 times more installed solar capacity than Alberta, although the solar potential in Calgary is far greater than in Berlin.
The government of Alberta’s support of solar has been small but there has been some funding available to farmers to install kilowatts of solar PV systems.
Alberta solar industry is small, but it does support 86 small- to medium-sized solar related businesses, according to a quote on the website www.greenenergyfutures.ca by Rob Harlan, the executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.
McLauchlin has talked to others who have thought about harnessing solar energy, but have not been proactive to that end.
“I’ve talked to so many people and they all say I’d like to do it one day. But they need to move on it now. Things are cheaper and it is easier than it used to be.”
Meanwhile McLauchlin, himself has planned to put some more of that wonderful solar energy to good use.
“Of course, I am not done yet. I am expanding another five kilowatts of solar this summer and then I am at maximum capacity for my transformer.”