Leona Eyben stands on the far left, next to the expanse of solar panels in their back yard. /ANDREA ARNOLD

By Andrea Arnold

Kelly and Leona Eyben had discussed the possibility of setting up solar power for some time before actually taking the leap.

“We had agreed that if we were going to get solar panels, we were going to get lots,” said Leona.

They stayed true to that statement and when the time came, they had 48 panels installed, creating a power generating surface 84’x11.5′ that began producing power in November 2021.

Prior to the panels, the pair was paying between $6000-$6500/year in electricity, and up to $4,500 on pellets to heat their home, their B&B and their shop, approximately 4000 square feet in total.
A year ago, they switched from the pellet heat in the B&B to a boiler system, and would have seen an increase in electrical costs had the solar panels not been offsetting their costs.

Solar panels are often installed on rooftops to take advantage of direct sun. However, the Eyben’s home has a complex series of slopes and no one side met the criteria for size and sun exposure.

“Also, we’d have to climb on to the roof to clear snow off them in the winter,” said Kelly. “We decided to put them in the yard. Where they are gets the most direct sunlight throughout the year, and we can reach them to clean them from the ground.”

This allows them safe access for both the process of clearing snow, and washing the panels. The only two types of regular maintenance required.

April to June is the best time span for production. Kelly says that they average producing 150 kilowatt hours a day. Production drops to under 100 kilowatt hours in the hotter months, and stays low as the days get shorter, the sun gets lower, and cloud or snow cover impedes the panels’ sun exposure. They start producing small amounts very early on in the year. In fact, at around noon on the day of the interview, Feb 1, even though it was a heavily overcast day, they were still generating enough power to light 29 100-watt light bulbs.

“The best combination for production is cool with lots of sun,” said Leona.

Although the summer months do not result in the highest production, Leona says that most days they build up credits, as the pair uses a very minimal amount of power on hot days.

The power that is not used by the Eybens is transmitted into hydro lines and sent into the grid. This amount is recorded and they build up a credit so that in the darker and colder months, they first “pay” their electric bill with credits before actually having to pay money.

The first winter the panels were in, they had not had the opportunity to build credits during the high producing months, and now this winter has been an abnormal one in regards to temperature, so they have not gotten a clear picture of what an “average” year is going to look like. However, they have estimated that their total cash payout to cover the hydro bill for this year is going to be around $2500. A drastic decrease from the almost $10,000 they were paying for Hydro and pellets prior to the panels and the switch from the additional pellets.

Kelly reported that in addition to the power that the property used in the first 18 months the system was active, they generated 45.05 mega watts that was fed into hydro lines and distributed through the grid.

The system they had installed cost around $43,000. They were told that they should expect the panels to pay for themselves within seven years.

One misconception that they have addressed when talking to friends and neighbours is that they are not immune to power outages because of the system.

“When the power goes out everywhere else, it goes out here too,” said Leona.

“There is a safety shut off so the power stops flowing out, to the house as well as the grid, to prevent anyone from getting electrocuted while working on wherever the problem is,” said Kelly.

The Eybens have discussed the possibility of purchasing some backup batteries, but they are an expensive purchase with a relatively short life span. They have decided that for how often they would be used, they would not pay for themselves before having to be replaced, so they have, at this point, decided against the additional purchase. They have discussed the possibility of installing more panels, but that is still in the discussion phase.

“It (the solar panel bank) is the best investment we’ve ever made,” said Leona.