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Building Community and Building Power: HHEAT Conference Focuses on Renewable Energy Co-operatives

Building Community and Building Power: HHEAT Conference Focuses on Renewable Energy Co-operatives

Mümtaz Derya Tarhan
The Community Power Report
June 18, 2012

The Hamilton Halton Renewable Energy Action Team (HHEAT) hosted the ”Building Community Power CO-OPperatively: A Renewable Energy Summit” on June 10th at Burlington’s beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens.

The main goal of this conference, in line with HHEAT’s organizational mission, was to build awareness around renewable energy and the co-operative ownership model for developing renewable energy projects. The conference aimed to achieve this through informing participating individuals and groups around the benefits and challenges associated with the model in order to provide them with inspiration and direction in joining or establishing a renewable energy co-operative. 

Volunteers from the conference (Source: HHEAT)

Despite being held indoors on a beautiful summer day, the conference was nevertheless attended by an engaged crowd of nearly a hundred people. Visitors were welcomed by kind volunteers and stands set by community power organizations, renewable energy co-operatives and renewable energy service providers. This area provided a great opportunity for learning more about these organizations, meeting professionals and other interested individuals, and also just for having a great conversation on a lovely Sunday afternoon. 

In attendance were also Burlington’s Mayor Goldring and Hamilton City Councillor Brian McHattie, who both shared their views on the positive impacts of renewable energy and community power, and their commitment to making their cities greener and more prosperous through such projects.

Exhibitor Displays

The first presentation was delivered by Graham Flint, an energy specialist from HHEAT, who provided general information about his organization and the benefits of cooperatively-owned renewable energy projects. He emphasized that renewable energy co-operatives have a strong local economic impact, but what is even more important in his opinion was that they change the way we look at energy generation and consumption. Through citizen involvement and co-operation, renewable energy co-operatives ignite social and behavioural transformation. 

Another point Graham Flint touched upon was the impact of successful co-operatively owned renewable energy projects have on their successors. ”Generating their own clean energy provides ordinary citizens with a great sense of accomplishment. This not only encourages them to develop further project within their community, but also motivates other groups to undertake similar projects”. 

The cases of Germany and Denmark seem to prove him right. Germany is a global leader in renewable energy and community power with almost 25% of its electricity generated from renewable sources, and 50% of renewable energy generation is community-owned. 430 new energy cooperatives were formed since 2006 in Germany, and of the 250 new German cooperatives in 2011, 158 were energy co-operatives. Meanwhile, 80% of wind power generated in Denmark, a global leader in wind technology and generation, is cooperatively-owned.

The Jam-Packed Conference Hall 

Harry French from Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) also presented at the conference and informed participants about valuable resources for renewable energy co-operatives that are in place in Ontario. Besides resources that exist outside of the community, he encouraged participants to pay attention to what he deems to be the most important resource for renewable energy co-operatives: Building relationships within the community.

Following this encouragement to build strong relationships, the timely presentation by Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative’s (TREC) James Law focused on how to build strong partnerships to develop a successful project. His eye-opening speech pointed out that partnerships are not necessarily on paper; renewable energy co-operatives must approach each and every single actor that will play a role in the success of the project as a partner, including volunteers, staff, government agencies, other co-operatives among many others.

James Law also touched upon considerations for Collaboratives, Joint-Ventures and Community-Corporate Partnerships in undertaking renewable energy projects, and pointed at main elements community groups should be wary of prior to entering such joint projects. 

Besides representatives from leading community power organizations in Ontario, the conference also featured a presentation by Rob Yost of The Local Initiative for Future Energy (LIFE) Co-operative. Mr. Yost provided participants with a perspective from the ”field” and shared his experiences in starting, developing and sustaining a renewable energy co-operaive. ”If I were to name two traits that are key for a renewable energy co-operative to move forward are stubornness and adaptability to adapt”, he said.

The final presentation was delivered by Hany Ibrahim from the Horizon Utilities Corp, who provided information regarding how the electricity grid works in Ontario and how communities can connect their renewable energy projects to the grid.

There is an enormous room for growth for renewable energy co-operatives in Ontario, and what will drive this sector forward is knowledge and experience sharing; communicating with the public and government agencies; and building solidarity within the sector. This is exactly what HHEAT aimed for with this conference, and participants definitely left the venue with a greater awareness and much needed inspiration to take action.

Slides from the conference are available here

HHEAT also has numerous valuable resources on their website for developing and managing renewable energy co-operatives within Hamilton/Halton region and beyond.

Mumtaz Derya Tarhan
The Community Power Report

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