Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative: Creating Solar Energy Projects in BC, Despite the Odds

Feb 16, 2016

For those that don’t know me, my name is Katie and I am the Outreach Coordinator for SolarShare. I started working for SolarShare in May 2015 and shortly after purchased a $1000 Solar Bond and became a proud SolarShare member. I was so thrilled to be able to invest where my values lie. Since I am born and raised in BC, it was only when I moved to Ontario that I was able to invest in SolarShare. But for those that live outside of Ontario, it is very encouraging to see renewable energy co-operatives growing across Canada.

Rob Baxter, VREC

Photo Credit: Vancouver Renewable Energy Coop

Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative (VREC) is a workers’ co-operative formed in 2004 that sells and installs renewable energy systems in British Columbia. I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Baxter (pictured above), the founder of VREC, and hearing him speak. He shared that since he founded VREC, 11 years ago, he has been working to expand solar energy in BC. When he first started in this line of work, solar panels were a lot more expensive and solar energy was not the cool thing that it is today, with the support of notable figures such as Leonardo Decaprio and Elon Musk. But, he continued his journey, and within the last year, VREC has installed more than 160 kW of solar energy, which is more than its total solar energy installations in the last 10 years prior!

Solshare Energy, although not a renewable energy co-operative on its own, is a project of VREC. Solshare owns solar systems and allows residents of BC to invest in them.

So how is Solshare structured? Well, unfortunately there are no significant incentives for solar energy projects in BC like the Feed-In-Tariff in Ontario. So, instead Solshare does not sell the electricity generated by its projects to the grid. Instead, they take advantage of BC Hydro’s Net Metering Program, which makes it fairly easy to connect up to 100 kW solar systems to the grid. The electricity is sold to third-parties through lease agreements. Solshare’s first project is a 23 kW PV system on a co-housing site in East Vancouver.

How do the investments offered compare between Solshare in BC and SolarShare in Ontario? While both investments allow residents of each province to invest in community solar projects and earn a financial return from those projects, Solshare does not yet own a diverse portfolio of projects across BC like SolarShare already has in Ontario. Solshare does intend to procure multiple systems throughout the province, ensuring the performance risk will be spread across the portfolio of projects. Furthermore, Solshare investors, like SolarShare investors, do not bear the construction risk, because VREC takes on the construction costs and sells the systems to Solshare once they are commissioned. For Solshare, those that invest (a minimum of $2,000 is required for the first set of offerings) become part-owners of the physical assets and will receive dividends (expected to be 3.1% in the first year and increase to 4% once more projects are online) based on the energy produced by the projects.

So, if you are a BC resident, you now have another way to support the growth of solar energy in your province. Keep up the good work VREC and Solshare!