Starland Farmers Love the Sun

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Starland Farmers Love the Sun

Bob Sargent, a farmer who also runs an oilfield services company and serves as a counselor, lives in Starland County north of Drumheller. He never would have installed his 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system if it hadn’t been for the county. Matthew Kreke is a project manager for Starland County and he says it all started with water.

“We wanted to bring rural water to most of our residents. That requires a lot of pumping and a lot of these pumping stations are very remote. So, originally we’re trying to look at ways to cut costs with our energy for bringing water to our citizens. And that’s sort of how we stumbled onto solar. From there we’ve been involved with several different programs trying to bring solar out and we’ve seen the cost fall from there,” says Kreke.

All told, the county runs 65 kilowatts of solar at pumping stations and community buildings.

Inspired by their success, Starland County wanted to help its residents take advantage of this technology as well, so they developed the Starland County Solar Incentive working with the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre and Bullfrog Power. The goal was to install 100 kilowatts of solar and they wanted to keep it affordable.

Through discussions with farmers, Starland County found a tipping point. If they could bring the payback down from 20 plus years they would have no trouble attracting people to the program. To bring the costs down they worked hard to develop a creative and affordable template for 10-kilowatt solar systems.

With the help of Bullfrog Builds and the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre they were also able to offer a grant of up to $5000. With farmers doing some of the installation themselves, plus tax incentives they got the payback scenario down to 10 to 13 years and the cost down to under $30,000.

“Some of these farmers out here… have lots of land, they’re comfortable putting together machinery, taking care of equipment and they also make large capital expenditures on an ongoing basis, so a typical farmer in our county isn’t going to be scared away from a $30,000 purchase,” says Kreke.

Sargent is enthused, and already predicting better than planned performance. “Originally I thought roughly a 10-year payback, but I’m going to be less than eight years. But there is a 25-year warranty, so in eight years I’ll get my money back plus I’ve still got 17 years left of warranty,” says Sargent.

Sargent says he and his farmer brethren are comfortable thinking outside the box. This small county in the middle of the Prairies is a leader. They have pioneered an affordable template for farmers to add solar to their operation.

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

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