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Collecting Solar Energy, Collectively

Thomas Bennett
Monday, March 28, 2016

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BCSEA Business Member Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-op (VREC) first began exploring the idea of a community owned solar energy project in 2006. In Europe, thousands of people were proud owners of renewable energy systems through community co-ops and VREC wanted to do something similar here in Vancouver. However, in 2006 it was not economically viable.

As the price of photovoltaic equipment and utility rates changed, VREC began to create the framework for BC's first cooperatively owned solar energy project.

Despite the change in affordability opening up the solar PV market to the average person and making it not only affordable but profitable, there were three big issues preventing people from reaping the benefits of using a solar PV system. Firstly, many British Columbians didn't (and still don’t) own a house. Many of those lucky enough to own a house found themselves without a suitable roof to install a solar power system. Finally, many people that wanted to own a solar power system still couldn’t afford the cost of a complete system. A tricky trio of obstacles if you’re trying to establish a foothold in BC’s energy market.

img_3987.jpgVREC found the solution though. They applied to the BC Utilities Commission in 2014 for an exemption that would allow them to sell electricity to third party customers. In 2015 they installed their first project and filed the documents with the BC Securities commission that would allow them to sell investments to the public. Their project combined community housing, which eliminated the housing and affordability issues, with SolShare Energy’s cooperative investment structure. BCSEA Business Member Bullfrog Power supplied the installation and construction financing and has been a strong supporter of the project. In 2016, through SolShare Energy, VREC sold their first offering of public shares and their first power plant came online. Now this cooperatively owned and community driven project supplies power to the multi-family residential complex and pays an annual dividend to investors. Winners all round!

If you're interested in viewing the solar plant firsthand, VREC are offering a free tour of the installation on March 30th!