Solar energy helps power Sask. grain farm

On the Farm: The family say two lines of solar panels have reduced their quarterly electricity bill to $40 from $1,200

ETHELTON, Sask. — Harvest never ends on the Stevenson farm. Once they’ve got crops from their 2,400-acre grain farm in the bins, they continue to harvest solar energy.

Tucked into the backyard, behind the garage and equipment shed, sit two lines of solar panels that gather light and energy from the sun.

Tyler and Allyson Stevenson installed the array about three years ago and have no regrets.

“We think about how much energy we’re creating and how much energy is going into the grid,” said Tyler.

“It’s feeding everything. We don’t really think about the consumption here at home. We think about what we’re putting out because we probably produce a little more than we use.”

They still get electricity from SaskPower, but the solar installation has considerably reduced their bill. Quarterly electric charges used to be about $1,200 for the house, yard and shop lights, which included some grain aeration during harvest. Now the invoice is about $40 per month.

The system uses 78 panels rated at 335 watts each. Together they can generate 26 kilowatts of power production, which is about 37,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Installation of the array cost $80,000 but they qualified for a $20,000 grant under a former net metering rebate program from SaskPower.

Tyler admitted he needed convincing when Allyson first broached the idea of going solar.

“Allyson was more of the driver. I was more of a passenger. I thought it was more an environmentalist kind of nonsense thing, but once you drill into it and you learn about that it’s fascinating and so beneficial,” he said.

Added Allyson: “I always felt our power bills were really high here and that if there is a better way to do it, why wouldn’t we take that opportunity.”

One of the first steps was to calculate how much solar would be required to offset their annul power usage.

“It was all laid out and you have an idea of how fast you’re going to repay it back and basically get to the point where you’re not paying a substantial electricity bill,” Tyler said.

The system’s return on investment is about 12 years, which he doesn’t think is a long time considering he’s spending that money regardless. And the panel’s power output is designed for 25 years.

“That’s the way I think everyone should look at it as an investment,” he said.

Tyler and Allyson met in Kinistino in the late 1990s. Allyson was pursuing her PhD in history at the University of Saskatchewan while Tyler farmed.

She now teaches indigenous studies at the U of S, commuting between the farm and Saskatoon each week. She doesn’t have a farming background, but her Metis heritage has roots to the land in the Kinistino area.

“I was adopted and raised in Regina, but my family is actually from Kinistino and I reconnected with my family when I was 20. My family originally homesteaded in this area and Tyler’s family owns some of the land that my family homesteaded,” she said.

The couple have four children: Jasmine, 22, Anson, 20, and 14-year-old twins, Isabelle and Chloe.

“Overall I’m really happy to be able to raise my family on the farm. We’re really close with Tyler’s parents so having that intergenerational connection and growing up close to the land and being able to raise our food in the garden are really important to me,” she said.

Just down the road is where her in-laws live, the same farmyard where Tyler was raised, where his parents still reside and where his late grandparents homesteaded.

The quarter was a First World War soldier settlement given to his grandfather in 1920, shortly after the vet contracted the 1918 flu pandemic while stationed in the United Kingdom.

The parallel to the past is recognized as the century-old farm goes through the current global pandemic.

One of their future plans is to install solar in this yard as well.

They said having the means to harvest their own electricity has not changed the family’s consumption habits at home, which has electric appliances and baseboard heating.

“We’re a blanket on the couch kind of family,” said Tyler laughing.

Added Allyson: “We still keep everything turned down pretty low and we don’t over-consume now just because it’s like free. This ability to generate power from the sun I think is really powerful. And I’m glad that we’re not consuming energy generated by coal-fired power plants or dams that have been used to flood out territories. I like the thought that our energy I feel is cleaner energy too.”

Soon after the system was installed, Tyler said his curiosity led him outside several times a day to monitor how much solar energy was being produced.

“It’s got a digital readout that tells exactly what it’s producing right now and it’s pretty satisfying to see what’s happening. You can hear everything whirring and buzzing away. And it cleans itself off (of snow), it’s no fuss, no muss,” he said.

“The whole idea of taking the power from the sun and having it run through everything back into the grid is pretty neat.”

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