Farm hits pay dirt with solar power after failed wind experiment

Blake Jennings was only 12 when wind turbines appeared on his family’s poultry farm in 2007, but he watched and helped where he could as his father Glen and grandfather Cecil tested the new technology.

“I’ve been involved in the family farm business for as long as I remember,” he says. “I’ve always been fascinated by farming.”

Wind power was still new in those days — a “gee whiz” technology that was full of promise for a blustery province like Nova Scotia.

At that time, wind turbines were the purview of large industries, power utilities and governments — not family farms — but the Jenningses have always been innovators, so they took a chance.

“When you’re a farmer, you’re always looking for ways to cut costs and deliver more product,” says Blake, who now runs Bayview Poultry Farms Ltd. alongside his father. He is also in charge of Blake’s Pumpkin Jungle, a roadside pumpkin U-pick operation in Debert that is popular in October.

It’s fair to say that farming may be in the Jennings family’s DNA. They have operated their farm in Masstown for five generations, starting in the 1940s as a mixed farm raising dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs and a variety of crops. Blake’s branch of the family primarily focuses on eggs; a cousin who lives down the road has kept the dairy side of business going.

Bayview Poultry Farms has around 14,000 laying hens and is one of 25 licensed egg producers in Nova Scotia, supplying fresh eggs to large supermarket chains as well as smaller retailers around the province.

In recent years, Bayview Poultry Farms has adopted elaborate computer systems that control everything from barn temperatures to egg-collecting processes. The layer barns have also been extensively renovated to provide hens with scratch pads and more space. As for the three wind turbines installed in 2007 — they are still on the farm, but Blake refers to them as “glorified weathervanes.”

“They worked,” he says, “but they just didn’t do what we wanted them to do. It’s like when you buy a car that is supposed to get 40 miles to the gallon and for various reasons it doesn’t do as advertised. Each turbine would power a barn, but we still needed a second source of power for the farm.”

On top of the inefficiency, the technology behind the wind turbines changed rapidly, making parts obsolete or hard to get. “The turbines would have had to run flawlessly for us to justify the cost,” says Jennings. “They didn’t.”

When they realized the turbines weren’t delivering as promised, Glen and Blake soon began musing about solar power. In 2020, they finally began drawing up plans for solar arrays. “When we started with wind power back in 2007, solar technology really wasn’t advanced enough to meet our needs. That changed over the next few years.”

They turned to Sun Kissed Energy, a full-service solar energy installer located in nearby Truro, to design the system. The company provided a solar assessment and then designed a system that would give Bayview Poultry Farms as much power as it needed to cut ties with the energy grid.

The Jenningses were cautious at first, given their earlier disappointments with wind power, but it didn’t take long to see that solar was going to succeed where wind had failed. “The system did more than we ever expected,” says Blake Jennings. “We can now run the whole farm with our solar panels.”

Sun Kissed Energy’s owner, Mark Shelley, says it’s a no-brainer for farms to make the move to solar — especially given the grants currently available. “For a farmer, there are a lot of variable costs related to power, so fixing those costs makes sense from a business perspective,” he says. “The technology allows you to produce the energy you use, so why not direct your payments for power to something you own?”

For Blake Jennings, helping the environment is just as important as reducing his bottom line. Bayview’s eggs may be the greenest in Nova Scotia, and that’s something he’s proud of. “When you can help out your bottom line and help out the environment at the same time, that feels pretty good.”

A recent issue of PwC Canada's Tax Insights sheds light on draft legislation for the clean technology investment tax credit (Clean Technology ITC) released by the Department of Finance in August 2023. According to the draft, this will provide a refundable investment tax credit (ITC) of up to 30% on eligible clean technology property acquired and available for use after March 27, 2023. The credit will be reduced to 15% in 2034 and fully phased out after 2034.

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