by George Fullerton
Auenland Farm began selling solar-generated electrical power to the New Brunswick grid in December. It’s being touted as New Brunswick’s “first solar farm.”
Frank Jopp operates Auenland Farm, in Mount Pisgah, east of Sussex, with his wife Elke and their sons Alexander and Micha, milking 110 cows and cropping about 600 acres.
The first phase of the project has 350 solar panels collecting the sun’s energy. Jopp expects to have the second phase completed early this year for a total of 500 panels. He estimates the on-farm power plan will generate 177 kilowatt hours of electrical energy per day, enough to supply eight average homes.
Jopp began the solar project with a plan toward net metering, meaning he would use the power needed on his farm and then sell any residual power to NB Power. However, after consulting with the utility, he decided to build an embedded generation plant, which provides all of the generated electricity to the grid. He essentially sells power to the grid at 10 cents per kilowatt hour, then buys the electrical supply for his farm off the next utility pole for 11 cents per kilowatt hour.
Jopp said he decided to produce and sell electrical power in part because, like other dairy farmers, he’s selling milk at 2011 prices and has to find savings or add enterprises to the base farm to maintain profitability.
“We began planning the solar project in April 2017, and after initial research, we sent out requests for information to four companies for proposals to develop and construct our project,” he said, adding that he had two “timely replies” and decided to go with NexGen Energy of Saint John, N.B.
Jopp explained that, with input from NexGen, he developed a business plan for the solar plant that would generate a five-percent profit margin.
NexGen project manager Mark McAloon explained that the company’s renewable energy projects typically start with an energy-use evaluation to look for opportunities to reduce the client’s energy consumption.
With the Jopp project, the next step was to determine optimum placement of the panels. McAloon said that building roofs seldom have the ideal orientation for optimum solar panel installation. Together with Jopp, NexGen identified a southeast-facing hillside next to the heifer barn for installation.
The irregular-shaped field is quite steep and not at all conducive to crop or forage production. Jopp had to bush-hog the area because it’s too small for his forage harvesting equipment.
The next step in the project, obtaining a building permit from the regional development commission, went fairly smoothly.
“The inspector came on site and had a lot of questions, which we answered credibly, and the permit was approved and subsequently issued,” said McAloon, adding that obtaining permits for other projects has been more difficult. “Solar installations are quite new, but as time goes on, building inspectors will become more familiar and the permitting process will streamline.”
Of course, the project had to meet public safety codes and was approved by provincial inspectors.
Once the size and type of panels and conducting equipment were selected, holes were excavated to install galvanized pipe eight feet deep, on which the racks that hold the solar panels would be mounted. The racks are made with galvanized steel and were sourced in Ontario. Each rack contains two horizontal rows of eight solar panels. Sussex Machine Shop Ltd. fabricated the base pipes and connectors for the solar panel racks.
The first phase of the Jopp project requires periodic manual adjustment of the racks as the sun’s track changes seasonally.
McAloon said the second phase of the Jopp project will have racks with automatic adjustment manufactured by Sussex Machine Shop, adding, “We try to incorporate local manufacture and technical support as much as possible.”
Each rack has an attached inverter, which converts direct current from the panels to alternating current to supply the grid. The collected power from the array goes through a series of breaker panels and then to a transformer, which kicks the voltage up to 7,200 volts, which then feeds into the grid. A meter on the utility pole measures the amount of power delivered from the Jopp electrical generating station.
On the subjects of sustainability and carbon offset, Jopp said, “There is no economic value, at this time in New Brunswick, to offset carbon dioxide production or greenhouse gas generation. Also, there is no government support to install solar or other renewable energy generation. This project has to pay for itself.”
NexGen counts many solar projects, including installations with Saint John Energy and several schools. Some projects are substantial installations, while some are as simple as solar-powered cellphone charging stations.
“Cellphone charging is small scale and may seem insignificant, but it makes a lot of people aware of solar power,” said McAloon. “It shows that solar really works.”
by George Fullerton