Guelph, Ont.-based Ag Energy Co-operative announced yesterday that it is launching a solar PV installation program for its member farmers and greenhouse operators throughout the province. The idea is that Ag Energy can act as a central point of contact, allowing the co-op to make bulk purchases of PV systems and get the best value for members. It has partnered with a company called Essex Energy Corp., which will design, acquire and install the system on behalf of the co-op.
Ag Energy was founded in 1988 as an organization that could make bulk purchases of electricity and natural gas and sell it back to members at a fixed priced. The goal is to reduce price volatility that might expose agricultural operations to spikes in energy prices. The co-op hopes to take the same approach with solar PV by aggregating demand and getting lowest cost PV systems that are designed to the meet the needs of greenhouses and other agricultural operations. Ag Energy also says it is prepared to lease land from farmers so it can own and install its own systems.
Of course, the interest is directly related to the new feed-in-tariff program being introduced, likely this fall, to the Ontario market. Under the program, the Ontario Power Authority has agreed to purchase electricity from small solar installations for between 44.3 to 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the size of the system. The smallest rooftop systems get the highest price; the largest ground-mount system (no larger than 10 megawatts) get the lowest.
Unfortunately, the province appears determine to ban the construction of larger multi-megawatt solar farms on prime agricultural land, arguing that the land is needed for food production. This, of course, is a highly hypocritical position given that the province is encouraging farmers to grow corn for ethanol production. Also, similar bans don’t exist for selling land to residential developers or golf-course builders.