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Turning Toward the Light

Aug 15, 2013


NOW Toronto's Adria Vasil interviewed SolarShare President Mike Brigham about co-operative power. Read the original NOW interview here.

SolarShare prez Mike Brigham talks up cooperative power

One month after the province announced it was overhauling, some say assaulting, the Green Energy Act, Toronto-based SolarShare Cooperative (financed by supporters buying solar bonds), has just locked in more than a dozen new rooftop solar projects and is on its way to becoming the largest renewable energy co-op in the country. Ecoholic asks SolarShare pres Mike Brigham for his take on the changes, good and bad, facing the green energy sector.

How will recent changes to the Green Energy Act affect renewable projects in the province?

What were previously called “large FIT” projects [all wind, solar, hydro, biogas, biomass systems over 500 kW AC] are being removed from the Feed-In Tariff Program [which sets fees paid for electricity generated by renewable energy], and contracts for the building of such projects will be handled instead under a procurement [bidding] process that is a definite step backwards. Worldwide experience reveals that FIT programs not only create faster growth of renewable energy but also result in a lower costs to ratepayers.

The province has just promised 900 megawatts of extra space on the grid to small FIT projects like SolarShare’s. Should we be celebrating?

The industry isn’t happy with the announcement. It’s pitifully small, and not enough to leave solar module factories anywhere near capacity.

So, will we be gaining or losing green kilowatts overall under the new policy?

Removing part of the FIT program and reverting back to the bidding processes is a step backwards. The positive is that there is an ongoing FIT program and hope that the province’s upcoming review of the Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) will mean renewables will be given a larger share of the pie than currently planned. If all forms of generation are evaluated and external costs (greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, toxic waste, risk to the public, etc) properly accounted for, renewable energy is extremely price-competitive.

We’ve heard of many stalled green energy projects waiting to be tied to the grid. Is the scene improving?

The Ontario Power Authority has offered some concessions to address this problem [but] they will take time. Most of the Ontario grid is antiquated; it was designed for a small number of very large generation facilities, whereas the future is numerous smaller facilities, like my own home, which generates electricity from its solar system.

Are more cooperative projects the way to win over the public?

[Cooperatives] reduce resistance, not just because residents have their concerns more fully heard, but also because many become financially invested in projects. In Denmark, there is very little resistance to wind developments; 80 per cent of projects are owned by cooperatives.

SolarShare members have invested $2 million collectively. Why should people buy SolarShare bonds?

They’re an example of what’s called “impact investing.” Not only do investors earn a 5 per cent return every year for five years, but they’re also creating new Ontario jobs and building solar systems for cleaner, safer electrical generation without a toxic legacy.