Solar, hydro, wind, geothermal – renewable energy is not only emerging in Canada, but integral to the country’s energy transition as we work towards a more sustainable energy mix. Green energy is particularly important in Alberta, as the province is among the provinces most reliant on electricity generation through fossil fuels – and it’s Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative that has taken the task of community-based solar power into its own hands.
With the installation date on the horizon for the Temple B’nai Tikvah and the Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative’s joint solar project, we excitedly connected with Andrea Johancsik, Climate Engagement Lead for the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, to discuss how the project came to be and what the community can look forward to in terms of green-powered investment opportunities.
Having a successful initial community demonstration in Canmore and the beginnings of another underway, the cooperative is gearing up to begin installing their next operational project, this time in Calgary at the Temple B’nai Tikvah. The 27.3 kWDC solar installation at the Temple is the first cooperative project in Calgary to use a microgeneration model, rather than a small-scale generation model which is typical of community generation.
This project could only come to be if a number of pieces came together – and luckily, they did. As a community-based project, the first piece required is a host site. Once the Temple was validated as a viable site for the project, the Biosphere Institute then received necessary funding from Alberta Ecotrust through the Climate Innovation Fund grant, which will be matched by the Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative to help fund the upfront costs of the solar installation on Temple’s roof.
First, a little backstory about the Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative.
A Mission to Empower the Community in Environmental Leadership
We wanted to dig a little further and learn how this project – and the Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative in general – came to fruition. “Through a 2019 solar feasibility study that was done in Canmore, The Biosphere Institute looked at the potential to install solar energy in Canmore and, through that process, found that there were some barriers for individuals to install solar on their homes,” Andrea shared.
The findings mainly suggested that affordability was a barrier – not everyone can afford a solar system – as well as housing limitations, such as condo regulations or people who don’t own their home. Andrea explained:
“Through that discovery process, a new direction was taken, which was the formation of a cooperative and so Bow Valley Green Energy was born and became its own cooperative with the mission to make renewable energy accessible and affordable. So if you can’t put it on your own home, you can still participate by investing in community owned energy.”
Bow Valley Green Energy wants to install renewable energy and host sites want to put a system on their roof which they often otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, while also experiencing the benefit of contributing to a community organization and reducing their carbon emissions. The cooperative does this by first identifying new projects, validating host sites and negotiating Power Purchase Agreements between the cooperative and the host site. The organization also procures community investment and finds investors and members who buy shares in the cooperative.
From there, installation can begin.
Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative both installs and manages the entire solar system at the host site, publicly launching the project to the community. Once up and running, investors see returns on their investment that are designed to match the returns seen from renewable companies on the stock exchange. A separate portion of the income is allocated back to other projects and the cooperative’s social benefit fund.
As we mentioned before, this model has already been put into action through a few projects in Canmore.
Bow Valley Beginnings
Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative’s project at Ralph Connor Memorial United Church was the first community-owned renewable energy generation system in the Bow Valley and the first community-owned solar project in Alberta. After the 2021 launch, further community interest and other projects began to surface, the product of individuals and organizations showing belief in and commitment to the cooperative process.
“We are also hoping that it’s not just a project that generates renewable energy, (which is awesome), but it can also be a demonstration of what community owned renewable energy is like or what it can be. So we are working with the Temple in an effort to reach the broader community in Calgary to show what community-owned energy looks like, what community generation is, and what the benefits of renewable energy systems are,” Andrea explains.
As the concept of community-owned renewable energy would suggest, it requires passion and buy-in from the community in order to create momentum in these early stages of the cooperative. Already, Bow Valley Green Energy can see both individuals and organizations reach out to put some skin in the game.
As with any new approach, the projects rely on forward-minded people who want to become involved in environmental initiatives and just like a natural ecosystem, this cooperative approach requires collaboration in many forms. Members of the community can become involved in three main ways: Cooperative Member, Host Site, and Investor.
Host sites that would otherwise not be able to afford renewable energy systems then, through the cooperative, have the means to participate in the energy transition. In this case, the Temple B’nai Tikvah has a congregation motivated to reduce their carbon emissions and contribute to social good, so this green energy cooperative model is a great fit for them.
On the flip side, investors contribute a minimum of $1,000 and get an anticipated 2.4% rate of return and the ability to participate in the energy transition and contribute to a social benefit fund. Sure, these investors see the cooperative as an investment opportunity, but it’s more than dividends – it’s about the long game that is sustainability and community empowerment.
Lastly, members of the co-op pay a $100 lifetime membership fee to also help these projects move forward. This membership tier gives an individual one share in the cooperative and an invitation to Annual General Meetings so they can have a say in the work of the cooperative.
Most importantly, everyone gets the chance to meaningfully contribute to the advancement of local renewable energy systems, reduction in carbon emissions, and creation of local jobs and projects.
Andrea shares what draws many investors to consider social investing: “I think it is really a long term game because a transition like this is the start. There may be investors that have some money to play around with and they want to do social investing because they have beliefs, but they might want to actually give that to their child or grandchild when they pass away. In that case, transferring those shares is an appealing option and it’s something that some people are really interested in doing as a way to sort of give forward to their family.”
Solar installation projects are just the beginning for Bow Valley Green Energy; the co-op has its eyes set on other areas within renewable energy, including wind and geothermal. Right now, investment is open to accredited investors, friends & family of the Board, and members that have been members for 1-year. Look out for an expanded investment offering soon!
For more details about Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative’s current projects, visit their website here.