by DAVE PINK
The AGRIS Solar Co-operative is expecting to begin construction on 20 solar gardens in eastern Ontario before the end of the year, says general manager Andrew Clark.
They could be feeding 12.5 megawatts of electricity into the province’s power grid by the middle of next year.
“We have been talking to the government and the OPA (Ontario Power Authority),” said Clark. “”The program is just starting to move forward, and hopefully we will be building by the end of the year.”
The solar garden concept was developed after hundreds of property owners, almost all of them farmers, had been approved for small solar installations, but because of technical constraints they were not able to hook into the grid in their local areas. The creation of these solar gardens will allow all of them to own a small piece of a much larger project.
In all, Clark said there are about 1,000 people who have been approved for solar collectors under the province’s feed-in- tariff (FIT) and microFIT programs that have become members of the solar gardens co-operative.
The province will allow no more than 50 individual solar installations in each 10-acre solar garden. The 20 AGRIS solar gardens will all be built in the Belleville and Picton areas, a part of the province where the sunshine is plentiful and the grid is accessible, but the agricultural land is inferior.
Property owners paid $20,000 each to become part of the co-op, and will receive a share of the profits over lifespan of the solar gardens project. The AGRIS Solar Co-operative was formed in March 2010 by landowners who had been accepted into the microFIT program and guaranteed a return of 80 cents per kilowatt of electricity generated.
The OPA had set a May 31 deadline for the property owners with constrained microFIT projects to choose from four options. They could choose to relocate their project to another location in the province where the connection would not be constrained; they could assign their project to another applicant; or they could combine their projects, which is the case with the AGRIS Solar Co-operative. As well, the applicants who had already purchased solar panels could apply for remediation from the OPA. BF