Green Acres, one of Western Canada's largest solar farms


Green Acres, One of WEstern Canada's Largest Solar Farms

The Green Acres Hutterite colony has a population of about 80 people. Breakfast and dinner are communal while lunch is eaten in the home. Despite their apparent quaintness, the Hutterites are ambitious industrial-scale farmers. This colony near Bassano farms 20,000 acres, runs a hog and chicken operation, operates Crowfoot Plastics, a one-of-a-kind plastics recycling plant, and more than 7,600 solar modules in its two megawatt solar farm. Once you understand a bit about Hutterite culture, their embrace of solar power makes sense.

“It still blows me away to this day,” says Jake Hofer, Green Acres’s electrician. “You look at the system, day after day, and there’s nothing moving, no moving parts, and yet it creates all this energy.”

“Every piece of our colony’s livelihood is an asset and is very important,” says Jake’s brother, Dan Hofer. “You grow and supply your own meat, you grow and supply your own garden and vegetables as much as possible, so [solar power] falls kind of in the same category. It’s self-sufficient. You’re relying on your own resources; you’re not relying on someone else.”

Building a two-megawatt solar system is a little more ambitious than planting potatoes. It required an investment of $4.8 million. But after careful analysis the numbers seemed to add up nicely and the banks agreed.

“We did it for economic reasons,” says Dan. “They didn’t have an issue at all. After seeing some of the numbers, how the economics would work out, they were fully supportive.”

For project developer SkyFire Energy, the project was a first in terms of scale.

“The solar resource here is some of the best in Canada,” says David Vonesch, Skyfire’s chief operating officer. “A system installed right here will produce about 50 or 60% more than if the same system were installed in Germany, where there’s more solar [installed] than anywhere in the world.”

The wind resource in Southern Alberta is also among the best in Canada. So why did the colony choose solar and not wind? “Maintenance was one of the big issues,” chuckles Jake. “And I’m terribly scared of heights.”

Green Acres pushed the envelope on the cost of the solar. They secured an original quote to build their two-megawatt solar farm for $2.80 a watt, but reduced that to $2.40 a watt through their own labour.

The result is a payback of 15 years if electricity prices remain low, or as few as 10 years if they start to escalate.

“I think because of this system, because of Green Acres taking this leap, we’ve seen increased interest in these types of systems, and this scale of project,” says Vonesch. “It’s taken the ‘what’s possible’ to a new level, and lots of people are looking at it and following suit.”

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

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