Power to the plants

Heeman’s completes a solar panel installation that will provide more than half of the operation’s energy needs

Photo: The 264-panel solar installation at Heeman’s will provide 57 per cent of the farm’s energy requirements 

JUST IN TIME to mark Earth Day, local favourite Heeman’s announced on Thursday the completion of a large solar panel installation that will be able to provide nearly 60 per cent of the strawberry farm’s energy needs.

The installation, planned since August 2019, is certainly a sizeable one for the farm and garden centre, which calls it “the largest investment in green technology we’ve ever made.”

The installation consists of 264 solar panels, producing as much as 128,000 kWh of energy in a year (enough to power nearly 11 homes). Altogether, the business expects it to generate enough energy to supply around 57 per cent of their yearly power needs.

“It was really a matter of leading with your wallet on things that are important to your heart” ―Will Heeman

“We have made sustainability a priority,” says chief daymaker, Will Heeman. “Now with this solar project, we’re able to focus on our greenhouse gas emissions, too. It’s just the next in an ever-growing list of initiatives that we take on here.”

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The project was supported by money from the federal Climate Action Initiative Fund and grant money from Green Economy London, and while it was a significant investment for the business, Heeman says it was the right thing to do for the environment and the logical next step to increasing Heeman’s sustainability.

“It was really a matter of leading with your wallet on things that are important to your heart,” says Heeman. “I think we as a society are facing some pretty significant challenges, and we all need to look at ourselves — what changes can we make today? This was the result of us dong that. We had the roof, we had the need and we had the ability, so we set out to try to do it.

“I think there’s something very symbolic about taking the same energy from the sun that gives life to our plants, gives flavour to our strawberries,” continues Heeman, “and then turning that around and using it to power our own operations.”

Heeman says the solar project could (and likely would) be expanded later on, as the province’s green infrastructure improves. The power grid infrastructure servicing the farm is outdated, which effectively limited how much power the farm would be able to put back into the grid via Hydro One’s net metering program.  Once the grid is eventually upgraded, Heeman says, they will hopefully be able to expand their array of solar panels. “I’d love to get to net-zero or more,” he says. “But the net metering project means that you can’t just turn Heeman’s into a solar farm.”

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In the end, Heeman says the investment, while pricey, is nevertheless a positive step for the farm and its place in the community.

“An investment of this magnitude was a big decision for us to make,” he says. “But it was a very easy one.” Power to the plants heeman Environment Kieran Delamont

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