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

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Despite the best of intentions, 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. A new Federation of Community Power Co-operatives intends to change that under new FIT rules anticipated any day. By unifying the co-op sector under one umbrella, setting standards and sharing resources, the Federation expects to support at least 100 MW of community-controlled projects by 2015.

Debates over land-use, energy prices and the impact of renewable energy have been a challenge for Ontario’s Green Energy and Economy Act and Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program. But with a recent Energy Minister Directive, new FIT rules will contain explicit 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.

In response to these rules, 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.

“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.” says Judith Lipp, Chair of FCPC and Executive Director of TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative.

“The FIT program has been controversial because people don’t feel they’re taking part in the current energy transition,” says 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. 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.

The new FIT rules (known as FIT 2.0) prioritize community projects through a “points” system and “set-aside” of 10% capacity for renewable energy projects that are majority owned by co-ops and aboriginal communities. FIT 2.0 is a strong signal to encourage public participation in building Ontario’s renewable energy infrastructure.

“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” says 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.

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,”