After installing about 100 solar panels on their dairy barn, the Schuurman family has reduced their energy bill by 60 per cent. And they plan to drive it lower still.
“My personal conviction is that I want to be sustainable long term — I believe in climate change, and I have an opportunity to change,” said Jordan Schuurman, who milks 85 cows with his parents, Evan and Susan. “There’s also the financial portion of it too. It is hard to see at the start because the technology is pricey but over the long term, you do see savings.”
The Schuurmans were able to take advantage of Growing Forward 2 programs to make their farm more energy efficient. More producers will be able to follow their lead, since the provincial government is putting an extra $10 million into the programs. That means there will be $15.8 million available over the next two years, almost tripling previous funding. As well, funding will be increased to 70 per cent coverage with a $750,000 cap (versus a $50,000 cap and 35 per cent coverage previously).
“We know that the costs of adopting new technology can be expensive. It is one of the factors impeding change,” Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said during a press conference at the Schuurman farm. “We’re building on programs currently offered through our Growing Forward 2 suite of programs — programs that are in high demand with over 700 applicants a year (and) currently oversubscribed.”
Dairy, chicken, egg, and hog operations, as well as greenhouses and irrigated farms, are more intensive users of natural gas and electricity, and will be able to benefit from the additional funding.
The Schuurmans, who have owned their farm since 1989, have been using solar panels since May (with excess power generated on sunny days being fed back into the grid). The total cost for the solar project was about $100,000, with two grants covering 40 per cent of that cost. The solar panels, which are made with tempered glass, have an expected lifetime of 30 years — although each year they lose about 0.5 per cent of their efficiency.
Last month, the Schuurmans installed a combination of induction lighting and LED lighting throughout their operation. Planned upgrades on their pumps and cooling systems to make them more energy efficient will reduce power costs even further.
The current programs being offered include the On-Farm Management Program, the On-Farm Solar PV Program, the Irrigation Efficiency Program, and the Accelerating Agricultural Innovation Program.
“I like to try different things so when the solar project came out, I thought it would be really cool,” said Jordan Schuurman. “Also we’re doing our part against climate change.”
The Schuurmans have also changed the indoor lighting in the milking parlour and barn as well as all the outdoor lighting on their farm. Their new lighting system means they don’t have to change light bulbs.
The government’s decision to increase funding for energy efficiency grants was a pleasant surprise, said Erna Ference, chair of the Alberta Chicken Producers.
“We will have to see the uptake (of these programs) and see how long the funds last,” she said.
But chicken producers are also worried their costs will go up sharply when the province’s new carbon tax comes into effect in the new year.
“The carbon tax is definitely a concern for us,” said Ference.
The provincial wheat, barley, pulse and canola commissions also welcomed the increased funding but said “work still needs to be done to minimize the financial impact of the carbon levy.”
For more information on energy efficiency grants, see growingforward.alberta.ca.