Going Solar


1 Going Solar Pic
Solar panels on the roof of the Wiebe home in Niverville Lisa & Todd Wiebe

It’s just past the kids’ bedtime at Lisa and Todd Wiebe’s house in Niverville. A guest has come to visit and six-year-old Liam is having trouble falling asleep. He peers out his bedroom door once too often for his mother’s liking. No wonder he can’t settle. Every light is on in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. So are the lights in the garage.

It might be enough to make the average homeowner a little twitchy about their Hydro bill.

But Todd and Lisa aren’t average homeowners. Not anymore. In August, the Wiebes became the proud owners of Niverville’s first fully solar-powered home and so far they couldn’t be happier.

“It’s exceeded our expectations and performed better than we even hoped it would,” says Todd.

In 2016, Manitoba Hydro launched its Power Smart Solar Energy Program, offering rebates to home and business owners who use solar power to generate their own electricity and sell excess power back to Hydro—and that’s exactly what the Wiebes have done.

“We are an on the grid system,” Todd explains. “We don’t have battery backup. Manitoba Hydro is our battery. That means we are still connected to Hydro. During the day our panels produce power. It feeds our needs first and then any extra goes into the grid. If you go off the grid, you don’t get the rebate.”

The Wiebes say that right now they’re at 120 percent usage, meaning that they’re meeting their own energy needs plus 20 percent. That’s no small feat for a family of five. In addition to Liam, the Wiebes have two other boys: two-year-old Noah and nine-month-old Michael. Add a menagerie of pets and you have a busy household that can really soak up the juice.

“We use a lot of power,” says Lisa. “We have three kids, two dogs, a cat. We do tons of laundry. The air conditioner is going all summer.” She adds that Liam is all-in on the project. “He tells everybody at school we have solar power now.”

For the Wiebes, there were a number of factors in their decision to go solar, environmental concerns and financial advantages being the foremost. Lisa has always been environmentally conscious. And while Todd was less committed to the cause, being married to Lisa has certainly raised his consciousness level.

“It’s something we try to teach our kids. Not being wasteful,” says Lisa. “Sometimes we don’t buy something because of how much plastic is in it.”

Both Wiebes are in agreement that the move to solar made a lot of long-term financial sense as well.

“We did it for the long run. We did it as a green initiative,” explains Todd. “But there’s also much uncertainty about future Hydro rates. They want a 7.9 percent per year increase over seven years. That’s not going to affect us. The loan payments are what our Hydro bill would be.”

The Wiebes have what’s referred to as a one-for-one contract with Manitoba Hydro. For every kilowatt hour over usage their solar panels produce, they are credited back that amount. They say that even at night they end up with credit.

Even though they’ve only had their system installed since August, the power and credits generated so far will sustain them through the relatively darker months just around the corner.

“We can’t wait for next year May, June, and July when we get the most sunlight. We just missed out on that this year,” says Todd. “We’re excited to see how much power we’ll generate.” 

He adds that Manitoba and Saskatchewan are known to be prime locations for solar power projects because of the ample hours of sunlight the prairies get each year.

Solar Manitoba is a Winnipeg company that has installed over half the solar power projects in Manitoba, including the Wiebe home. Todd and Lisa say that the company did a great job for them.

Lisa adds that Solar Manitoba provided everything from structural engineers and electricians to taking care of the permits and dealing with the town. They even applied for the Manitoba Hydro rebate and it just came off their invoice.

Installation took only a day and a half and the Wiebes’ roof has 28 solar panels on it that click together like Lego. The panels are resistant to wind, rain, and hail and even provide protection for the shingles. They’re also warrantied against deterioration beyond a certain threshold. The Wiebes say that they’d like to expand and add more panels someday.

After the installation was complete, the Wiebes learned from neighbours that there had been some consternation on their street about how the panels would look—concerns that disappeared once they were installed.

“People have told us that they look like skylights,” says Lisa.

The number one question Lisa and Todd get from curious onlookers is how long it will take before the system pays for itself. They say there’s no simple answer. It depends on Hydro rates, and it also depends on how much power they use and how many panels somebody might install. Todd’s best guess is 15 years, and the panels have a life expectancy of twice that. So as they move toward retirement, Hydro bills will be one thing they don’t have to worry about.

In addition to going fully solar, the Wiebes have installed LED lights throughout their home and have a new seven-day programmable thermostat that keeps the house cooler at night. They would someday like to own an electric car.

“And with our solar panels we can fuel it for free,” she says.

When the panels were installed, the Wiebes were given access to a phone app that tracks just how much power they generate. The app translates these figures into practical terms. In their first two and a half months, they’ve supposedly saved 187 trees and 1,748 kilograms of CO2.

Lisa likes that her family is making a difference. “With climate change and everything, we have to look at ways to do things differently. There are places in Europe where no solar panels are the exception. You can be more green. You can lower your carbon footprint.”

Todd likes making a difference too, but he adds, with a grin, “I don’t like utility companies. I like that they’re paying us.”

If you’re curious about the Wiebes’ home and whether solar power might be right for you, they’re happy to show you around and answer any questions. Liam might even pop his head out of his bedroom and say hi.

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