An Ottawa company has a new way to send a jolt through your investment portfolio, and it’s just won an award for its efforts.
Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op funds roof solar panel projects through investments from Ottawa residents. It sells the energy to the government and then passes profits to its investors, aiming for five per cent profits per year over a 20-year agreement.
OREC had the distinction of installing the city’s 1,000th solar rooftop – a goal set by groups like Sustainable Ottawa. It installed the panels on the rooftop of Maurice Lapointe French public school, an event celebrated by the likes of Mayor Jim Watson and others at the school last September.
The energy co-op subsequently won the Community Project of the Year Award from the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association on Jan. 28.
“Their projects and their business model are a great example for community engagement, participation and ownership, ensuring that the benefits of the projects stay within the local community,” said Nicole Risse, the association’s interim executive director.
“We believe that local participation and ownership is crucial to realize our vision and OREC is a great example of how to make our vision a reality.”
“We are thrilled,” said OREC operations manager Janice Ashworth on winning the award.
The company, now five years old, took inspiration from across the pond for its business model.
“There is quite a movement for community-owned renewable energy in Europe, particularly in Denmark and in Germany, where this sort of idea has been around for a century rather than a decade,” said Ashworth.
“Here we’ve just started getting involved in community owned renewable energy since the Green Energy Act came out in 2009. Over there it’s been since the early 1900s really where there’s been community groups putting up their own wind turbines and generating power for their local grid, so that’s definitely an inspiration and where a lot of the learning has come from.”
There are several advantages to the community funding approach, she said. OREC finds roofs to lease from landowners whose buildings receive good access to the sun, cheaper connections to the power grid and are larger than your average residential roof.
With investors pooling funds for the project, a larger, more profitable solar system can be installed, she said.
So rather than an individual homeowner shelling out $15,000 to $30,000 for their own solar roof setup (if they already own their own home), individuals can purchase shares at a base price of $2,500, plus a $100 membership fee.
However people seem to invest much more.
The 500 members have collectively invested $5 million, said Ashworth; an average of $10,000 per person.
The solar system then feeds energy back into the Hydro Ottawa or Hydro One grid, selling the power to the Ontario Power Authority through a 20-year feed-in-tariff contract.
With 13 solar rooftops across the city, including three other schools, OREC’s production counter shows they’ve produced 1.05 million kilowatt hours of electricity, generated more than $548,000 and avoided 50,450 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
“It’s a good way to see the future,” the French public school board’s superintendent of education, Jean-Pierre Dufour, said of OREC’s model.
Having implemented its own environmental program, called eco-responsible, in 2009, the school board was approached by OREC to consider leasing their roof for a solar panel project. The board was happy to go ahead, said Dufour.
Now students at the school are engaged in learning how the solar panels work, how to calculate the energy they collect and what other ways there are to collect sustainable energy.
OREC hopes to expand its business into some of those other methods and models of clean energy collection, said Ashworth.