Building Community Power CO-OPperatively: A Renewable Energy Summit

Friday, 18 November 2011

OSEA's Community Power 2011

Here is a report from the OSEA Community Power Conference 2012 that I attended on November 15th, 2012.

Moving Community Power forward: Setting the Agenda for 2012

This was a closed working session by invitation only. The morning started with key note speaker John Restakis, executive director of B.C. Co-operative Association and author of Humanizing the Economy: Co-operatives in the Age of Capital.

The presentation was absolutely inspiring and gave us as pause to reflect on the following themes: community mobilization, public accountability going beyond simply the production of energy.
Restakis who is the director of the B.C. renewable Energy Co-operative talked about the co-operative city (of which Vancouver hopes to me one). Check out this essential document:

The cooperative city BCCA co-op and how municipalities can team up with the community.

Restakis talked about the relationship to municipality. I was excited by his ideas of a co-op as a structural mechanism to deliver a larger frame of reference-that is, including political bodies like municipalities.
In Italy (Amelia, Umbria) the AGACC Co-op consists of members who are municipalities. They have combined to create a region-wide association. Orders of cooperation become larger and larger when cities know how to work together.

Co-ops extend responsibility for sustainable energy. In promoting a sustainable city, co-ops bring an educational component (a key co-op mission)beyond simply the production of energy.

Beyond Capital: Co-ops add value to the city. It's social capital, enhancing the community connection, community mobilization and public accountability.
Co-ops promote community interaction and reciprocity.
The concern is that there is a growing sense of isolation, disconnection and disengagement-both on the personal and social front.
Co-ops demand that people work together around social goals, regenerate reciprocity, co-ops build community. Link it to the recreation and building of community. Basically, if the city wants to build sustainablity that is going to last, it has to think about how it is going to engage its citizens. It has to think about systems that can outlast political agendas. How do you build in the institutional supports that will carry through? is the question Restakis asks.
We need community base and infrastructure with deep community roots.

Groups participating in the conference were asked for their vision for renewable energy in 2018.
One group suggested we look at the German example where Community Power (CP)is institutionalized. That means prioritizing CP, facilitating its financing, making CP product RRSP eligible and so on.Other suggestions included getting connected as neighbourhood hubs/energy hubs and tying Community Power in with local food movement.
After this we heard from Judith Lipp (ED of TREC) and JJ McMurtry of York University on the topic of Measuring the Co-op Difference (sshrc/cura funded).

CP groups include co-ops, educational institutions, municipalities, First Nations. We were asked for our input into the social advantage and market advantage of community owned versus commercially owned projects as well as the disadvantages of each.
Some advantages of community owned include localized economic development, less 'nimbyism' while with the commercial projects more jobs, capacity building, purchasing power, security.
Co-ops have a much higher survival rate- built in democratic process.
Some challenges: for CP the regulatory process in daunting, FSCO,CIA,OPA)

We heard in one group that Infrastructure Ontario for non profit organizations has funding available.

Afternoon session:
Community power public offerings and community power project finance.
We heard from various co-op directors including Andrew Clarke from Agris Solar Co-op (100% owned by farmers). Sparksolar runs and manages the co-op.
Also Mark Labbe from Options for Green Energy who is helping to facilitate Halls Pond solar co-operative (a 7.5MW system with a $26 million capital cost, 8 million community bonds and 600-8000 members).
Labbe talked about his work with Guelph Solar Community co-operative ( 20-40 members). We heard from Mark Powell: Waterpower Projects 15% Renewable Energy Co-op, Radicle Consulting and St Agatha Wind Project with LIFE in Kitchener Waterloo.
We learned about early stage financing, what investors like to see, how lenders think and the financial challenges for a CP project.
According to the OPA, there is only 1000W-2,000W available on the grid.

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