Vancouver’s First Solar Co-op

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bullfrog power
Vancouver's First Solar Co-op

Vancouver Solar Co-op

On February 26th, the people of Vancouver co-housing moved into their new solar co-op home equipped with 90 solar panels.

Rob Baxter of Solshare Energy headed the project. He talks about the details that were 10 years in the making.

“We often get calls from co-op housing about these projects and I have to shake my head because you just don’t get the 50% vote needed to go ahead with solar projects, most people don’t have the long term vision. Vancouver co-housing got 100% consensus.”

At Solar Co-Op with Rob Baxter from Solshare
Rob Baxter, Solshare Energy

Co-housing didn’t have to pay any money up front for this system. Basically, they just have to pay for the power that the system generates. They are paying a slight premium over what they’d be charged by BC Hydro, although they are able to get energy credits so it saves them some money. The system itself is owned by people in the community who bought shares in Solshare Energy.

These people get dividends on the energy sold, averaging 4% which he points out is higher than the banks and for a worthy community project.

The building’s 90 rooftop panels produces 25,000 kw/h per year. The energy, converted to AC from DC by 3 phase converters build right under the panels, sends power into the breaker panels and into the common areas and underground parking.

Rob points out that this system, which costs approximately $65,000, is enough to power about two and a half homes per year under old standards or over 10 homes per year which are built for energy efficiency like the one he lives in.

“Germany has the highest percentage of solar energy than anywhere in the world. If we installed this same system there it would actually produce less energy. Our climate has nothing to do with the slower solar growth in BC. It’s because our energy prices are so low compared to elsewhere.”

At Solar Co-Op with Andrea Reimer (middle) from the city of Vancouver and David Clark-Wilson (right) from Highnet Energy Inc.
Nathan Robinson, Ecotusk with Andrea Reimer, Chair of Policy and Strategic Priorities Committee and David Clark-Wilson, Highnet Energy

The City of Vancouver mayor’s office was represented by Andrea Reimer, Chair of Policy and Strategic Priorities Committee.

“We can be willing to work on policy but we need people who are willing to work with us to make it happen.”

She stated the goal was for Vancouver to be a 100% renewable city. Part of the capital required to make the project happen came from Bullfrog Power.

Dave Borins of Bullfrog Power flew in from Toronto to speak on their involvement. Bullfrog Power is 11 years old and is Canada’s 100% renewable energy company.

“My role is to be the community renewable project administrator/director. We are a for profit company but we are a social enterprise and our stated goal is to accelerate the growth of renewable energy in Canada. What we can do is support projects like this one and help provide capital to make them happen.

We are Canada-wide and to date I think there are 67 projects across Canada and we have contributed over two million dollars to these types of projects.”

At Solar CO-Op Dave Borins (right) from Bullfrog Power and Nathan from Ecotusk.com
Nathan Robinson and Dave Borins

Q&A about Solar Co-ops with Rob Baxter

Is this similar to how Solar City operates in the US?

Yeah it’s similar, we’re only doing it on larger scale projects, where Solar City can do individual.

They also charge less than what electricity rates are where our customers pay a premium. Solar City charges about $0.15 per kw/h which is a savings for people in the US but for us that would be quite a bit more than what we pay.

Even our highest rate is only about $0.12 – this week. Next week it will be more. Solar City also gets a 30% tax credit, if we were to do the same thing here we’d have to start charging about $0.20 per kw/h using that same model.

What would you like to see happen long term?

We’d like to see a lot more projects like this. Our business plan calls to double this every year for the next five years.

Whether or not we’re able to do that really depends on how many people are interested in buying shares into these types of projects.

Is there a limit to the amount of people that can buy in? (Total Shareholder Buy-in)

Currently there is but we can change it. Right now it’s a million dollars but it will be a few years yet.

What are the biggest obstacles?

Awareness is a big obstacle but mainly it’s economics. We’re trying to make this project more economically viable, but it has more of a long-term perspective. These solar panels come with a 25 year warranty and they’ll probably last 30 years or more.

Over that time they’ll definitely pay for themselves. People need to think in terms of that time frame.

(Images courtesy of Julia Austine)
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Born in Vancouver, B.C. , Canada. Father, musician and philosopher, lover of people, culture, eco-tech, hockey and craft beer. Thinking of solutions to global issues since 1994 when I was awakened due to the Rwandan genocide and the lack of action by the G7 nations. Adopted the Buckminster Fuller philosophy that in order to solve a problem you create solutions that make them obsolete.