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Community power co-ops join forces in Ontario’s green energy struggle


July 31, 2012
By Anthony Capkun

July 31, 2012 – Despite the best of intentions, TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative says Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program has resulted in contentious debates over green energy in the province. “Community participation in projects has long been a suggested solution, but community power proponents have had limited success to date,” says TREC, adding this is why a new Federation of Community Power Co-operatives intends to change that under new FIT rules.

With a recent energy minister directive, new FIT rules will contain provisions for co-ops and First Nations that are developing renewable energy projects, with the goal of greater citizen support through community participation, ownership and profit-sharing, says TREC.

In response, community power co-ops are coming together under a new umbrella organization—the Federation of Community Power Co-operatives (FCPC)—to facilitate co-op-led project development “at the highest possible standards by sharing collective experiences, expertise, knowledge and tested development tools and resources”.

By unifying the co-op sector under one umbrella, setting standards and sharing resources, the federation expects to support at least 100MW of community-controlled projects by 2015.

“The depth of experience among the federation is significant and we want to leverage that expertise to build a thriving community power sector in Ontario, one in which every citizen has the opportunity to generate and own his/her local power supply,” said Judith Lipp, chair of FCPC and executive director of TREC.

“The FIT program has been controversial because people don’t feel they’re taking part in the current energy transition,” said Deb Doncaster, head of the Community Power Fund. “Co-ops are attractive because every community can now have a direct economic stake in local projects and, thus, in the program as a whole.”

Community power co-ops help improve Ontario’s green energy experience by enabling more community involvement in project development and redistributing the economic benefits of green energy generation back to the local community, explains TREC. Any resident of Ontario can join a community power co-op and as a member, invest in the co-op’s renewable energy projects and have a say in the co-op’s activities.

“In forming the Federation of Community Power Co-operatives, the sector is practicing one of its core principles—co-operation among co-operatives; a fitting development in this, the International Year of Co-operatives,” said Shane Mulligan of LIFE Co-op in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The goal is to work collectively towards maximizing the set-aside allocation, creating efficiencies and best practices and in the long run, putting community power on the map in a way we have seen in places like Denmark and Germany where citizens own up to 50% of all renewable energy generation, adds TREC.

Lipp says the Federation is eager to help other co-ops and proponents of renewable power, and encourages them to join the conversation. “Community power has a great future if we work together to make it happen.”