A group of 16 community renewable energy co-ops from seven provinces is fighting an uphill battle for recognition, nearly a month after urging the federal government to make it easier for Canadians to invest in locally-owned and -generated electricity.
Late last month, the group led by the Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative (OREC) wrote to Environment and Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, asking them to support formation of new renewable energy co-ops, support tax changes to help them build larger capital pools, and work with provinces to remove barriers to community energy ownership.
They also pointed to upcoming procurement opportunities in federal clean electricity initiatives and threw their support behind community financing for net-zero building retrofits.
OREC past president Dick Bakker said the groups addressed themselves to the two line ministers, rather than Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, after participating in the pre-budget submission from the Green Budget Coalition late last year.
But the more recent missive hasn’t received much response, Bakker said in an email. The groups have heard back from mid-level officials, “but they don’t have the power to make policy changes,” he wrote. “Our requests are policy and political decisions.”
Bakker said that’s because “politicians want big ticket items that they can announce,” delivering immediate job growth, combined with “silo thinking” between Ottawa and the provincial governments that hold responsibility for grid policy.
But that amounts to a missed opportunity, the groups say.
“Renewable energy co-operatives generate up to eight times more local revenue than a project carried out by an external enterprise—maximizing the employment and economic benefits from the clean energy transition, generating and keeping wealth in the community in all parts of the country—not just in resource areas,” the groups said in a release.
The co-ops can also “unlock a vast source of personal savings that are searching for more sustainable equity investments,” the release added. “This builds a sense of ownership of energy and gives members the knowledge that energy in their community is coming from sustainable sources. Owning renewable energy facilities in their communities also increase the acceptance of renewable energy projects.”
Bakker said the co-ops started work on their letter shortly after last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, where the 1,900-member European Community Power Coalition called on EU leaders to make community energy a part of their approach to climate solutions.
The release cites an October, 2021 YouGov survey that showed 86% of Europeans in favour f new wind and solar in local areas and 77% of people who live near wind turbines supporting new ones if they’re community-owned. The survey found that 61% of Europeans would join a renewable energy co-op if they could, and 79% supported increased government funding for communities to generate their own solar and wind energy.
[Disclosure: The Energy Mix publisher Mitchell Beer is a longstanding member of OREC.]