As a grassroots, socially responsible organization, Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative (BVGEC) facilitates community-owned renewable energy generation projects. The team is community led and volunteer driven.
Now, more than ever, is a driving need to shift the current carbon intensive, corporately owned energy model to a low carbon member-owned model. There are some challenges to that shift, which Jodi Conuel, Corporate Secretary, explains.
“A 2019 feasibility study into community generation undertaken by our project partner, the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, identified three major barriers to participation in the renewable energy transition: (1) many households rent or reside in multi-tenant buildings (2) some buildings may not support the installation of renewable energy (3) some homeowners cannot afford the initial capital investment.”
“Many people have identified a wish to join in the renewable energy transition but are restricted by these barriers. Our coop gives them a way they can participate. By creating opportunities and installing community-owned renewable energy projects funded by local capital here in the Bow Valley, we are making participation in the energy transition accessible and affordable.”
Here’s how it works. Community focused energy projects are financed, owned, and managed by residents using an economic model whereby local community members invest in shares in an installation and receive a direct economic benefit in the form of dividends.
“Supporting every Bow Valley resident to own a portion of a power company is the foundation of our membership and investment strategy,” adds Jodi. “Currently, most renewable energy generation projects are owned by corporations and in the future, these projects may be increasingly owned by out-of-province or even out of country corporations. That means that the profits from these installations could leave Alberta, rather than remaining in our communities and benefiting local economies. Profits from community generation will, in the future, also support local community initiatives such as education on energy efficiency, facilitating residential renewable energy and environmental protection.”
That is far from the only benefit. This model also supports local job creation, local sustainable purchasing, an energy source that is a viable backup to the current power grid, and tangible action on climate change.
“The Bow Valley is already feeling the effects of climate change,” says Jodi. “Models predict the average annual temperature in the Bow Valley will increase by 1.9°C in the next 30 years. Scientists anticipate that by that time, rain will make up more winter precipitation than snow and wildfire smoke will fill our summer skies. According to the IPCC report 2021: global emissions must peak by 2025 to keep warming at 1.5°C. We must do everything in our power to transition to a low carbon economy.”
The problem of climate change seems insurmountable, but organizations like BVGEC prove that fast community-led, effective, socially minded action can be achieved.
“We are the first community generator to install community-owned solar in Alberta; our first host site is located on the Ralph Conner Memorial United Church,” says Jodi. “As a cooperative and a social enterprise, our model is based on the shared values of cooperating and creating benefits for all. We regularly work with and guide other organizations in finding their way in the community generation space. By collaborating as coops, community generation projects can increase the amount of renewable electricity generated by sharing experiences and lessons learned and building on local investments to create regional partnerships.”