According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), there was a 31 per cent jump in renewable energy sector investment across Canada in 2014 with $8 billion spent on developing green energy projects. Locally, community co-ops have developed over 75 projects in the Greater Toronto Area, including on rooftops in Toronto, Hamilton, Brampton, Vaughan, Markham and Mississauga, with many more to come.
“These are very exciting times for renewable energy. Costs have dropped significantly, technology has improved, and electricity system managers have made the leap on integrating these new energy sources. The result is a big upswing in jobs and investment in this sector, exactly what our country needs right now with our oil sector stalling out and the threat of climate change growing,” says Judith Lipp, president of the Federation of Community Power Cooperatives (FCPC).
An important part of the renewable energy growth story is the role of community-owned energy projects. Solar, wind, biogas and biomass projects owned by community co-ops, public institutions and municipalities are delivering triple bottom line returns for communities, including jobs and revenue, environmental benefits, and more resilient local energy systems.
“Renewable energy co-operatives like ZooShare have seen enthusiastic support from the community. Last month we met our goal of raising $2.2 million through community bonds, and our members are now looking forward to seeing what their dollars will build and the impact it will have. The community power sector as a whole has raised over $27 million from community bonds and shares – it is clear there is a growing market for investment opportunities that make money and do good at the same time,” says Daniel Bida, Executive Director of ZooShare.
The UNEP report makes it clear how a combination of falling costs and improving technology is making green energy the “go to” source of energy worldwide, with 30 per cent more power being put online per dollar invested today compared to 2011. The UNEP report estimates that 2014’s record amount of global renewable energy investment will provide enough zero emission energy to displace 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 worldwide, the equivalent of eliminating almost all of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions twice over.
“Ontario made a smart decision to take a leadership role in what is now a booming worldwide industry,” points out Lipp. “Our U.S. neighbours are now installing a solar system every two minutes. Here in Ontario, wind power is already cheaper than new nuclear reactors and we will certainly see even lower prices for all renewable sources in the next round of project procurement.”
Lipp acknowledges that renewable energy development has not been without controversy in Ontario, which is why she believes that community involvement is invaluable. “Studies and real-life experience have both shown that where community members are part of a project, concern about renewable energy largely vanishes,” she points out. “Community ownership can really take wind and solar projects further by involving the community in selecting locations, raising investment dollars, and keeping jobs and investment returns in the local area.”
“The community power sector is, in many ways, the untold success story of Ontario’s green energy efforts,” adds Marc van Beusekom of Queen Street Solar, which is developing projects in Durham Region. “We are making renewable energy work for local communities while also making sure our communities benefit from being a part of one of the world’s fastest growing industries.”