SolarShare Community Solar Bonds (Finalist.)
Thanks for the comments and words of encouragement on the SolarShare submission conversation and posting page - in particular we appreciate the intent of most of the commentators to participate in SolarShare's community power model when we reach regulatory approvals stage.
Our vision for SolarShare is to build the co-op’s project pipeline and maximize the number of citizens who can become members and invest in solar in Ontario through SolarShare bonds - inclusion, engagement, education and empowerment through economic returns are key. How expansion plans are going to play out is tough to say: in addition to the regulatory hurdles, there are many variables including access to capital, new energy prices, and effective widespread marketing outreach.
And that's what we're hoping to accomplish with the support of ClimateSpark. We're hoping SolarShare Co-operative makes it to the next round, to access the advice and direction we need to keep our idea growing, so that everyone in Ontario can “Solar Power their Portfolio” through the purchase of SolarShare community solar bonds and participate in the solar economy in Ontario.
SolarShare bonds are about ‘community power’; opening the door to everyone to participate in the solar economy in Ontario, and reaching individuals who would otherwise not have access to solar generation (those living in apartments, shaded homes, or having limited capital for project investment). It exemplifies what the Green Energy Act and the Feed-in-Tariff program were designed to enable - profitable businesses generating green energy and green returns to the community.
SolarShare has taken on the initial investment, risk, and work in installing solar power projects across Ontario. The co-op currently owns 18 projects representing over 600 kW of capacity, and has launched an offering of Community Solar Bonds to the public.
Individuals and businesses in Toronto and across Ontario are invited to become members of the co-op and purchase SolarShare bonds. The $1000 bonds earn 5% annual returns over a 5-year term, generating revenue from 20-year power purchase contracts.
The co-op model supports the interests of communities in developing new solar power projects, instilling a sense of ownership and allowing members to feel enthusiastic about uniting with other individuals who want to participate in the green energy economy and develop community owned power.
In the few weeks since we posted our SolarShare submission, the total output of our installations has climbed to 270 MW, which using Environment Canada's latest .186 g/kWh equation means carbon displacement of over 50,000 kg. Why is our track record to date so important? One of the arguments we hear against solar development is that the technology isn’t efficient and doesn’t really produce any significant power. We as a co-op are very keen to provide transparent information to our members and to the general public about how solar works to create energy and limit emissions - and educate ‘solar nay-sayers’!
POTENTIAL: That said, we’re very excited about the future power generation potential and carbon emissions offsets inherent in our portfolio of PV projects. If we never installed another solar power plant, our current portfolio of 18 plans representing over 600 kW of installed capacity, should displace about 152,000 kg of carbon per year, decreasing by 0.5% annually as panels age.
VISION: The vision for SolarShare is to build the co-op’s project pipeline and maximize the number of citizens who can become members and invest in solar in Ontario through SolarShare bonds. How expansion plans are going to play out is tough to say: there are many variables (access to capital is a big one) and a lot depends on the current Feed-in-Tariff review and the new prices being set by the Ontario Power Authority soon. Regardless, the co-op looking to add another 250-500 kW of projects in the very short term, bringing potential offsets to between 200,000 - 250,000 kg of carbon displaced annually.
Anyone can monitor SolarShare installations by viewing a live-feed meter on the SolarShare website (solarbonds.ca), measuring electricity and revenue generated. Each project site, spanned across a Google map of Ontario, is marked by a sun icon and leads to photos of the projects and real-time data. Co-op members from the solar technology industry particularly get a kick out of the interactive nature of the projects. Others like to watch the revenue generated and see tangible results of their investments.
TREC: TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative is a non-profit, environmental co-operative that develops community-owned renewable energy projects and educates Ontarians about renewable energy, energy conservation and the community power model. TREC consists of three ‘divisions’: TREC generation (of which SolarShare is a part), TREC Services (building capacity and serving other members of the cooperative community) and TREC Education (an award-winning charity with a range of energy education programs that create a lasting impression on more than 20,000 students and citizens each year).
TREC was the incubator for the WindShare Co-operative, the pioneering ‘for-profit’ co-op that installed and, through it’s 400 members, co-owns the iconic wind power turbine at Exhibition Place, providing renewable electricity to the people of Ontario through community ownership.
SolarShare partners with a variety of organizations that promote sustainability and community development, including the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, the Community Power Fund, the Centre for Social Innovation, Evergreen, the Canadian Solar Industries Association, On Co-op, and others.
SolarShare has a comprehensive 20+ year business plan that spans the length of the power purchase agreements (PPA’s) all SolarShare projects have secured with the Ontario Power Authority. These PPA’s guarantee revenue for each electron generated by SolarShare’s portfolio of 18 solar power projects until 2031. Projected annual generation for the installed capacity, which totals over 600 kW, is $489,000 in the first year, with about 0.5% degradation in panel output (and thus revenue) over 20 years.
CHALLENGE: Building project pipeline with limited access to more bridge / construction financing, and tied to a 'one bond per member' restriction until such time as the co-op receives regulatory approval from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO).
To ensure the viability of SolarShare, emphasis is placed on marketing memberships to all Ontario citizens and businesses, enabling everyone to invest in SolarShare. In the emerging ‘impact investing’ market, SolarShare Community Solar Bonds offers ‘triple bottom line returns,’ presenting economic, social, and environmental benefits.
CHALLENGE: making a lean marketing budget stretch through the 'one bond per member' development period and through the grassroots building of community memberships and education. Having a budget leftover to reach out in a comprehensive manner with a new way of impact investing to a large audience across the Province.
FSCO regulatory approval is pending, most likely until late 2011 or even into 2012. At that time, members will be able to file their Community Solar Bonds into self-directed RRSP/ RESP/ TFSA accounts, and purchase an unlimited number of bonds. Market research indicates investors are keen to invest an average of $5,000 in SolarShare bonds, and to hold bonds in registered accounts.
CHALLENGE: Covering legal costs through the approvals process and determining / actualizing RRSP eligibility.