Hydro Bill Begone! Couple Harnesses Sun in Big Way

Last Updated: 2017/07/13 11:26:11 AM

Solar installation may be largest private system in province

July 5, 2017

RM OF OAKVIEW — Wim and Marlies Verbruggen are basking in the glow of not giving another cent to Manitoba Hydro.

The Verbruggens have installed what is believed to be the largest private solar energy installation in the province. The south-facing solar photovoltaic system, located on the family’s farmyard off of Provincial Road 250 in western Manitoba, produces 70.2 kilowatts of electricity.

The energy is generated through 260 ground-mounted solar panels, positioned in two rows on the north side of their farm.

Wim Verbruggen didn’t think too long before betting on alternative energy.

"It was a quick calculation and it was pretty clear," he said.

Long before moving here from the Netherlands in 2002, Verbruggen and his wife knew the advantages of solar power, since the method is popular in Europe.

For years, he considered installing solar panels at his Manitoba farm, but that made no sense because the province’s electricity rates were cheap.

Things changed last year when Manitoba Hydro began offering a rebate program — $1,000 per kilowatt on residential and commercial solar power installations — essentially sparking the province’s feeble solar power industry.

Verbruggen did his research and connected with staff from Solar Manitoba. In May, they brought the Verbruggen farm online with solar power.

Justin Phillips, co-owner of Solar Manitoba, heard last week from Manitoba Hydro that their system, north of Rivers, is the largest solar installation taking advantage of the rebate.

Phillips also believes this is the biggest solar installation in the province.

"The agriculture market is… our focus here in Manitoba, because they spend a lot of money on electricity," Phillips said. Business has lit up even more since Manitoba Hydro announced this year it intends to raise electricity rates in the double digits.

In May, the Crown corporation specified it wants to hike rates by 46 per cent over the next five years.

As a result, Solar Manitoba, one of the province’s largest solar system installers, has bolstered its operations to keep up with demand. It has jumped from two full-time employees 18 months ago to 10 full-time staff members and 15 contractors today.

The company has completed more than 20 installations in Manitoba and already has deposits for 70 more customers. It is weeks away from opening up its second office in Dauphin.

The Verbruggen installation needed to be massive because of the hefty $15,000 bill they were paying Hydro each year for electricity.

Manitoba Hydro determines the number of solar panels it will help cover, by calculating a property’s average annual consumption. Since the family farm uses apbout 85,000 kilowatt-hours a year, a solar power system producing 70 kilowatts of electricity would ensure a year-end "net zero" bill, wherein enough electricity is generated in the summer to cover increased usage in cooler times.

The rebate covers about $70,000 of the $210,000 cost to the Verbruggens, Phillips estimates. If Hydro’s anticipated rate increases are approved, the Verbruggen’s investment will pay off in less than a decade, he believes.

— Brandon Sun

By:  Ian Froese 

Source:  Winnipeg Free Press