Southern Alberta farm uses solar energy to power irrigation pivots

With technology constantly changing, one farm south of Grassy Lake decided to pave the way for a new type of farming.

Merlinds Farm has been in Cory and Lindsay Nelson’s family for over a century.

“We have mostly irrigation so that gives us an opportunity to grow some of these higher value crops and different types of crops,” Lindsay said.

Crops like seed canola, dry beans, lentils and durum. But last November, the brothers decided to do things a little differently and installed one of the first solar-powered irrigation systems in Alberta.

“We were concerned that as coal fire plants come offline, the price of power should start to move up — we thought this would stabilize our prices,” Cory said.

The two solar systems on opposite sides of the farm produce around 137 kilowatts of electricity, both running section-wide pivots with a 125- and 75-horsepower pump.

“They’re a net-zero system so the idea is that they will produce enough power during the whole year to run the pivots during irrigation season,” Cory said.

But they’re still waiting to see how the transmission and distribution charges will be affected, which are about eight cents per kilowatt hour.

“We do offset some of them because while we’re generating power, we’re not pulling out of the grid,” Cory said. “We wanted to go through a typical season and see how much it reduces our transmission and distribution charges as well.”

On a really good day in July, Cory says the solar panels will produce around 70 per cent of the power needed and the rest is pulled out of the grid.

“We’re only partway through the first year and I can see that it’s produced about as much power as we expected,” Cory said. “It’s a long-term play — we think we’ll break even in about 15 years but the productive life will be 35 to 40 years.”

Other farmers in the area have also taken an interest in the new technology, often stopping by to ask questions.

Currently, the brothers are considering adding more solar panels to their operation, and while they may be one of the first, they say they certainly won’t be the last.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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