The largest solar panel project in Manitoba, to date, is being installed on a dairy farm near Otterburne.

Justin Phillips is the president of Sycamore Energy and says they install solar panels to help residents, businesses, and agricultural facilities produce enough energy through solar power to have a net-zero electricity consumption.

He notes the current project is a 175kw system which consists of 540 solar panels, each is 15 to 18 square feet in size, and will produce enough to zero out their annual energy bill. Phillips says this particular project comes at a cost of approximately $500,000 with a $175,000 rebate from Manitoba Hydro, through their two-year solar power rebate program, which ends in April 2018.

"This is the entire farm itself," explains Phillips. "So all the electricity consumption from the barns, the equipment used to milk the cows, the residence, the lights, everything, the entire power consumption of that farm is being subsidized now through solar electricity. Hydro is replaced by solar."

Hans Gorter is the owner of the dairy farm with 130 cows. Gorter says the decision was made to proceed with a solar power project after many discussions with his family.

"We're always looking at ways to improve not only animal welfare but also our footprint, our environmental sustainability," he explains. "Also, being European, we see from our family and friends in Europe that are switching to wind and sun energy fairly regularly. I think it's prudent to look ahead and, if the technology is available, take advantage of it."

Phillips says while this dairy farm requires a 175kw system to bring their annual electricity to net-zero, an average residence would require an 8-10kw system. He adds a residential system could cover anywhere from 50% to 100% of the annual energy cost, depending on the available roof space and what direction it faces, adding north facing roofs would not produce enough energy.

"So, what happens is, you install the solar and the majority of your production is in the spring, summer, and fall months. You're producing all this electricity and it's just feeding back into your grid so it's turning your meter backward, it's crediting you, for lack of a better way to describe it."

He notes there are two projects in the coming months which will exceed the 175kw project. Phillips says one is in MacGregor with 200kw and the second is just outside of the Whiteshell at 204kw.

"The farming sector in general, whether it be grain, dairy, or cattle; there is an exponential amount of energy that's used and consumed on these farms and farmers are paying the same rates we're paying right now. So, they see an opportunity to lock in their rates and install this type of technology."

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