A community energy cooperative is a co-operative business or social enterprise, owned and governed by its members, which provides renewable energy and/or energy efficiency services.
In Denmark, more than 100 wind energy cooperatives have a combined ownership of three-quarters of the country’s wind turbines. Germany has over 900 local energy cooperatives, and every week three new coops start, sharing resources to build small wind farms, local biomass plants and large solar arrays.
In Britain, 43 communities are either producing or planning to produce renewable energy through co-operative structures, installing solar panels, large wind turbines or hydroelectric power for their local communities. Together they have invested over £16 million.
Members of the Brighton Energy Cooperative have installed more than 500 kw of community-funded solar PV, including big 200+kw arrays on industrial roofs in Shoreham Port. Members of the coop receive a 5% return on their investment, and a 30% tax break on the amount invested.
The Feed-In Tariff Connection
The main reason for the success of energy cooperatives in Denmark, Germany and Britain is the existence of a feed-in tariff which provides a firm, subsidized price for solar and wind power lasting 20 years. A feed-in-tariff is used as a policy instrument to accelerate the growth of renewable energy, in order to substitute for nuclear power (Germany, Denmark) or coal-fired power (UK).
British Columbia does not generate power from coal or nuclear, and BC’s mostly-hydro electricity is 95% zero-carbon, so there is no policy reason to adopt a feed-in tariff. Instead, the policy instrument of choice has been BC Hydro’s Clean Power Call, which invites companies to bid for the right to sell power to BC Hydro. For solar and wind energy, community energy cooperatives in BC therefore need to work with market pricing. For energy efficiency and conservation, they can work with BC Hydro and Fortis BC subsidy programs. (See XXX).
Energy Cooperatives in British Columbia
The Peace Energy Cooperative, based in Dawson Creek, BC, helps its members to invest in solar and wind energy, including playing an initial leadership role in the Bear Mountain wind project.
The Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative and Viridian Energy, based in the Cowichan Valley, are workers’ cooperatives, owned and managed by their own staff, providing renewable energy installation and services.
GabEnergy, on Gabriola Island, BC, is a non-profit organization that promotes alternative energy systems and energy conservation. It offers a solar PV turnkey operation, buying panels and equipment in bulk from Sentinel, in Ontario, and assisting homeowners with site inspections and installation. They have assisted with five installs, including a 10 kw rooftop system which came in at $2.60 a watt. They are currently planning a 20kw system to be installed on the community hall, to be owned and operated by islanders.
Sustainable Gabriola is a non-profit which undertakes sustainable energy related initiatives on the island, including cycle-paths, a community bus, and a heat-pump social enterprise which has seen 150 heat-pumps installed to replace baseboard heating through a bulk purchase arrangement, saving residents up to $1,000 a year.
The Cowichan Valley Solar Bulk Purchase Group is a group of 30 people who came together in 2014 to make a bulk purchase of 700 solar panels (200 kw), and to work with Viridian Coop (see this page) to arrange the installs.
Energy Cooperatives in the Rest of Canada
Saskatchewan Community Wind is working to develop community-owned wind farms, financed by local Saskatchewan investors.
AgrisSolar is a farmer-owned solar energy co-operative in Ontario with 700+ members. It enables its members to invest in and develop their own solar energy plants, providing them with an alternative to leasing their property to an independent solar developer or purchasing their own solar units. Their approach enables members to reduce the risk, lower the cost through bulk purchasing, and share the administration and maintenance.
The Hearthmakers Energy Cooperative, based in Kingston, Ontario, is a non-profit organization which provides energy efficiency services and environmental education in Eastern Ontario, working to improve the environmental sustainability of homes, businesses and communities through a focus on water conservation and energy conservation.
The Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative is a non-profit co-operative which develops community-owned renewable energy projects and educates Ontarians about renewable energy, energy conservation and community power. Tey have established Solar Share, which develops commercial scale solar energy installations using investments from any Ontario resident; Windshare, a 660 kw wind turbine on Toronto’s waterfront with the capacity to power up to 250 homes, owned by more than 400 Ontarians who invested to make it happen; and Lakewind, a proposed 20 MW wind farm project near the Town of Bervie, east of Kincardine.
The Community Energy Co-op of New Brunswick is a community-based co-op which invests and participates in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in New Brunswick. They are poised to develop a detailed plan for a community-owned wind farm in Carleton County. Membership in the Coop brings various benefits, including an hour of free energy consultation.
Energy Cooperatives in America
The Community Power Network, with over 100 members, provides its member organizations with resources and technical assistance, and helps to connect groups to the broader movement for community renewable energy.
In California, Cooperative Community Energy, founded in 2001, is a full-service solar coop that has helped nearly 1,000 members to install solar energy, doing custom design and complete project management.
In Massachusetts, the Vineyard Power Co-operative has installed a 99 kw solar system on the Chilmark landfill, meeting 50% of the municipal power demand. Their mission is to be a 21st century utility, producing electricity from local, renewable resources while keeping the benefits within the community.
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