Can producers make money as solar power providers?

The province is currently consulting stakeholders on a framework that could help farmers do this

In many places, farmers are allowed to turn a profit by tying their solar power systems into the electrical grid.

Albertans can export solar electricity to the grid — but there are currently no programs allowing system sizes larger than those that meet on-site electrical requirements.

“Alberta’s micro-generation law was crafted for homeowners, business owners, and farmers to generate enough electricity to meet their on-site needs and not to generate significantly more,” said Rob Harlan, executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.

“That’s different from what is happening in a lot of countries around the world. In Germany, for example, farmers are making significant money using their land for renewable energy generation with larger systems. I hear a lot of producers asking, ‘Why not release the ability of Alberta farmers to do the same?’”

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The province is currently consulting stakeholders regarding a community generation regulatory framework which, if passed, would allow producers to generate solar energy for profit.

“As the economics of a solar investment continue to improve, more and more producers and acreage owners will be interested in installing systems that go beyond meeting their own needs and can serve as a secondary source of income,” said Harlan.

Another coming option for farmers is leasing land for solar generation. Some producers in Alberta — particularly in the southern region of the province — are being approached by renewable energy companies to lease their land for large-scale solar projects.

These larger projects — often called ‘solar farms’ — will likely be a substantial secondary income source in the long run, said Harlan. But since leasing property for solar farms is new to Alberta, farmers should do their homework.

“These are big operations that can be 10 to 50 megawatts or more, and use six to eight acres of land for every one-megawatt-size system,” he said. “We’re going to see more and more of these happen in the province, starting south and working north.

“Farmers are asking, ‘What are my rights? Who are these companies? How does it relate to an oil and gas lease I already have?’”

The province’s Farmers’ Advocate Office has developed a guide called Negotiating Renewable Energy Leases which walks producers through the questions they should ask before leasing their land for solar energy purposes. Go to www.farmersadvocate.gov.ab.ca to learn more.

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