Sunshine on my shoulders: Yukon’s first renewable-energy cooperative

Yukon’s first renewable-energy cooperative has kicked off with the formation of the Solstice Energy Co-Op. This organization intends to build a utility-scale solar power project that any Yukoner can invest in and, over time, profit from! Renewable energy co-ops are a major shift in power production that’s happening worldwide. Community members take power into their own hands by pooling resources to build significant renewable energy projects. The power that is generated is sold to the utility company and the earnings are distributed to the owners. It’s a win for the climate and a win for the community.

This model of green investment has swept across Europe and North America, not only as a means of developing renewable energy, but also as a safe, reliable investment. By selling power to the grid, co-operatives have the advantage of being able to anticipate their year-to-year earnings based on long-term power purchase agreements. It is this predictability that has made them a popular form of direct investment in contrast to other volatile market-based investments. Both Vancouver and Toronto’s solar co-ops currently expect 4 per cent annual returns on investment. In Europe, there are approximately 1,900 solar co-ops operating today, with over 1.2 million members.

“Well can’t I just put solar panels on my roof if they are such a good idea?” you may wonder. Household solar is a great idea and a great way to save money on your power bill, but not everyone has this option. Solar co-op projects make investment in solar power a possibility for those of us living in condos or renting. Furthermore, the cost of putting solar panels on your house can be very high. In a solar co-op you can choose to invest in a single share or as many as your budget allows.

So far, Solstice has secured $84,000 in feasibility funding, with support from the Cooperators, New Market Funds and the Yukon Government. Solstice is currently in the process of identifying an installation location. The facility may be constructed on an appropriate rooftop, or built at ground level. Once the site is selected and the scale of the project is finalized, Solstice can begin estimating power production, anticipated revenue and share prices. They are targeting a spring 2022 construction kick-off, if the pandemic-related supply chain challenges allow it.

With COP26 (2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) underway and with the constant barrage of worrisome news about climate change, it can feel like it’s too late. Maybe we resign ourselves to the sense that one person can’t do enough. However, it is not too late for us to turn that worry into action, understanding that any reduction in carbon we achieve today will benefit the communities of tomorrow.  Projects like Solstice are acts of community solidarity in reducing our emissions but are also a powerful signal to government and private equity; if a bunch of neighbors can make money on solar, then what are you waiting for?

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