Equestrian centre using solar panels

The Midland Free Press: DOUGLAS GLYNN - May 19, 2010

Robert McLaughlin attributes the latest innovation at Celtic Roots Equestrian Centre to his frugal Scottish roots.

McLaughlin and his wife, Mary Ann, got tired of watching their hydro meter wildly spinning around, pushing up their electricity bill in the winter when the lights were on for hours in the horse barn and riding ring.

In October, they began investigating the benefits of solar panels.

Last week, the switch was thrown on a 10 by 80 foot bank of solar panels that will produce enough electricity to provide power to his horse farm on the 18th concession of Tiny Township and, on sunny days, enough to serve the needs of a few neighbours.

McLaughlin doesn't directly use the power generated by his solar panels. He sells it to Ontario Power Generation. And he buys electricity for his farm as he always has. Only now he has a smart meter.

He hopes to recover the $80,000 investment within seven years. Under his contract, OPG will buy the electricity his solar panels generate for the next 20 years. "They will pay us 80 cents a kilowatt and at that rate," he says, "we should make about $10,000 a year."

A wildlife biologist, McLaughlin worked at Algonquin Park before buying his farm.

"We've been farming 25 years," he says. "We started out with a dairy farm and then about five years ago we decided to get out of dairy to have more time for family.

"We had been selling hay to horse owners for a long time, so we had the inside track on that. So, we decided to start a boarding stable. We already had the indoor arena."

The couple spent two years renovating the barn. They went to farms in the area and asked the owners what they done right and what the did wrong. "We took advice from a local vet and brought in an equestrian specialist. We tried to make the perfect horse farm."

In doing so, they put in some features that took the environment into account. "When we put the manure system in we put a cement base down for the manure. All the runoff goes into an engineered wetland where the cattails take care of the nutrients. We didn't want to create another Walkerton."

In addition, they adopted a three kilometer stretch of road in front of the farm, which they clean up every spring and fall.

"We are one of the first farms to put in the panels. Our neighbours were thinking about doing it, but they are waiting to see if we run into any problems.

"There are already 6,800 applicants waiting to join the program," he notes.

"If everybody had a little panel on their house we wouldn't have to rely on a system that is subject to ice storms that can crash a system

"Environmentally, it's tremendous. There's no pollution, no nuclear waste."