Agris Solar Co-Operative, Inc. (Agris), held a meeting in Chatham in last month to inform farmers and municipal officials about recent progress towards its goal of installing a minimum of 1,000 ground-mounted solar installations on Southwestern Ontario farms. More than 700 farmers have signed up with Agris to purchase the systems, at a cost of $70,000 each, and many will recoup the costs by taking part in Ontario’s progressive feed-in tariff (FIT) program. The farm initiative will immediately create at least fifty green jobs in the area for graduates of Ontario’s PV training courses.
Agris is a division of Agris Co-Operative, Ltd., whose mission is to “enhance the profitability of (its) owners by employing Agriculture Innovation and Solutions.” The solar co-op has signed an agreement with Oshawa’s Northwind Solutions (Northwind) to build the solar installations on Agris’ behalf. Mississauga’s Hatch Engineering, Ltd. and Ontario’s Sparks Solar will also lend their expertise to the venture.
Northwind has already committed to hiring fifty new employees to help with the effort and hopes to hire more as the company picks up steam. According to Northwind’s President, Greg Duke, the project will receive $55 million from Rabobank and the Farm Credit Corporation (FCC). Agris’ Secretary, Jim Campbell, said that so far, the co-op has received $20 million in commitments of land and equity from 1,000 farmers.
Co-op, Industry, and FIT Create Green Jobs – Help Farmers Go Solar
Farmland provides the perfect medium for taking advantage of Ontario’s FIT program, which pays high prices to owners of approved renewable energy projects that tie into the province’s electrical grid. The FIT has helped to build a whole industry that includes hundreds of green jobs, manufacturing facilities, and educational opportunities such as courses for solar designers and installers.
Ontario’s declining agricultural sector and abundance of land make the FIT’s incentives particularly appealing potential revenue streams for farmers. Agris is stepping up to the plate with its new initiative by helping farmers get into the solar business and “green up” the province’s power supply. As the company’s Chairman of the Board, David Mallot, enthusiastically puts it, “Today is the day the rubber hits the road.” Ontarians can expect to see many more PV installations in the near future, as solar farms meet traditional farms on the province’s fields.
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