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Sylvan Star Cheese installs largest private solar array in Central Alberta

Going green has never been more important to John Schalkwyk, owner of Sylvan Star Cheese Farm.
SWITCHING TO SOLAR - The Sylvan Star Cheese Farm

Going green has never been more important to John Schalkwyk, owner of Sylvan Star Cheese Farm.

Originally hailing from Holland, the international award winning Dutch cheese farmer has made massive strides this past month with the installation of Central Alberta’s largest private solar array. 460 solar panels now grace the rooftop of their 12,000 sq. ft. facility located east of the traffic circle on Highway 11A.

Schalkwyk’s solar stroll began in spring of 2016 when he began chatting with CarbonBite Innovations based out of Red Deer who installed his array. The provincial government had begun to talk about the Carbon Tax, an environmental levy coming into affect in 2017 that will see businesses paying for their use of carbon including electricity.

“We looked at how much power we use and we made the decision we wanted to go green and not draw electricity from the power lines anymore,” he explained, adding the facility regularly sees power bills of around $2,000 a month. “I thought it was okay that they are putting the Carbon Tax in but then I had to think about the extra costs it was going to have on small businesses and operations, especially for me.”

“But now I save that money because our carbon use will be so low. It is really clean power and it will be paid back over time especially when the cost of power goes up and the tax comes in.”

It seemed like the perfect time to venture into the world of renewable energy explained Schalkwyk.

He added the idea of paying an extra unnecessary tax when they could instead invest in solar energy to draw green energy, with the potential to in turn make money off his array by selling excess power back to the grid seemed like a smart move.

“CarbonBite started pricing it out, telling us what we would need and when we could get it up. I told them if we are doing solar, then I wanted to do the maximum I could so that we are able to sell the power we’re not using back to the grid,” said Schalkwyk. “Especially in the summer time, we use more power due to refrigeration but we’re also generating more power because there is more sunshine. Then in the winter it will help to zero out what we are using because we use so much less so it’s a really great opportunity and it will work really well.”

He added Sylvan Star Cheese, which Schalkwyk has owned for 17 years, is always looking for ways reduce the amount of power and heat they use in the facility.

“For me I wanted clean energy and when the price goes up I didn’t want to be paying for it,” he explained. “If I’m selling back to the grid it’s much better than buying off it. Almost every house and business can do that too for not much cost and the payback, especially when the price of energy goes up, won’t take that long.”

Mark Whittaker, technical design supervisor for CarbonBite Innovations, explained the company was very pleased with the turn out of Sylvan Star Cheese’s new solar system.

“John is a good businessman and for him this made a lot of sense,” said Whittaker. “We’re going to save him a lot of money over the next 25 years. For farms and family operations, it’s the long term picture you have to look at.”

“If we couldn’t have shown him it was a good financial investment he wouldn’t have went for it. The more power you use, the more sense solar makes.”

Whittaker explained that in purchasing this array, Schalkwyk has guaranteed what he will be paying for power over the next 25 years. He added that while no one can guess what the cost of power will be next year following the Carbon Tax’s implementation, almost everyone can agree the price of power will be going up.

“Solar can be a tough sell because the price of electricity right now has never been cheaper - they’re almost giving it away around 3.46 cents a kilowatt where as B.C. is paying 12 cents and Ontario is paying 14,” explained Whittaker. “But almost everyone can agree Alberta is going to see higher rates next year with the elimination of coal, last year 67% of our power came from coal, and with the Carbon Tax.”

“Politicians can do whatever they want, but guys like John have just pre-purchased the cost of their power for the next 25 years guaranteeing their costs and what they’ll pay.”

Many are still skeptical of solar power, said Whittaker, adding some are waiting for the government to subsidize solar while others wait for the price of installation to drop. However, with next year’s impending rise in power prices he explained there really is no better time to invest.