By Connor Lynch
MANOTICK — SunTech Greenhouse owner Bob Mitchell installed LED lights — his bright pink greenhouse lights lit up the night sky — two years ago to grow tomatoes year round. He switched off the lights last fall when he pencilled out that his Hydro One electricity bill was about to soar. The price of hydro spiked from 16 cents per kilowatt hour to 27 cents per kw/h starting last October. He figured his hydro bill from last October to the end of February this year was going to cost him $250,000.
Mitchell had already invested $1.1 million in the fuschia-coloured LED lights back in January 2015, covering some of his costs with, ironically, a rebate from Hydro One.
But when the time came to switch on the lights last fall, Mitchell realized it was a non-starter. “There was no way the market would cover it. Retail tomatoes would end up in the $6 range. They’re not going to sell,” Mitchell told Farmers Forum.
Last November, Mitchell put in a new crop of tomatoes that can survive on just natural light through the winter in his four-acres of greenhouses.
This year, he plans to turn the LED lights back on, but Hydro One won’t be supplying the energy. His newly purchased second-hand natural-gas-powered generator will. The worst hydro bill Mitchell ever got, he said, was 27 cents per kilowatt hour. Once the generator is up and running, he figured costs will be down to 8 cents an hour. And that’s after a total investment of $650,000.
So, instead of paying $250,000 for five months (from October to the end of February), he figured the generator will get costs down to $80,000.
That’s despite the introduction of cap and trade, the provincial tax on fossil fuels introduced on Jan. 1 this year.
“Even with cap and trade, it’ll be more cost effective to use natural gas,” he said.