Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative (TREC)
By the time Judith Lipp had finished her PhD at Dalhousie University, Ontario had only just taken notice of the possibilities of the renewable sector for alternative energy sources.
Now, Lipp is the Executive Director of the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative (TREC) and runs one of the most organic and reputable energy co-operatives in the country. TREC is in its twelfth year, and has moved up from its raisond’être as incubator and builder of the Ex-Place wind turbine and is today a “sought-after partner in a range of renewable energy initiatives.” The non-profit co-operative runs projects from community energy initiatives to energy education, and enables the dissemination of unique insights, experiences and information that are needed in the transition to a sustainable energy future.
Lipp has more than nine years of research and consulting experience in sustainable energy TREC Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative issues spanning the globe, and has served as a consultant on both energy demand and supplyside issues. She is a spokesperson for Toronto’s, and even Ontario’s, renewable future, and spoke to George Media about the efforts of the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative in spreading the word about renewables in Canada.
Sara Kopamees: Why do you think it has taken North America so long to wake up to the possibilities of focusing on renewables as viable energy sources?
Judith Lipp: Environmental issues are more ingrained in the psyche of Europeans. When I moved to the UK ten years ago, people were talking about climate change as a matter of fact issue, whereas 10 to 12 years later we’re still debating [in North America] whether or not it’s real. That reflects itself in the media reporting that is done.
SK: What are the outcomes of us just catching up now, as we move into a new decade?
JL: In my mind, it’s too late, at the pace we’re moving, and with all the other old ways that keep contributing to the problem. We are in no way keeping pace with the [speed at which we are] generating greenhouse gasses. It’s a relief that we’re finally doing what we’re doing, but we’re going to be forced to react because things are going to get very uncomfortable, on the climate change side and the impacts it will have on communities.
When you don’t know the future, I think you should be making prudent decisions. But even when we haven’t been making prudent choices because we don’t know why we should, why wouldn’t we act sensibly?
SK: True enough. Do you think the original wind turbine in Toronto’s Exhibition Place satisfied people’s need to feel like we’re doing the right thing, and putting effort into environmental initiatives?
JL: We can only do what we can as individuals. As a society, we tend to look at symbolic things and have a tendency to see those symbols, and then assume we’re doing the right things. The turbine on the one hand has that affect, but more powerfully, has been a symbol of what can be achieved.
SK: So there is meaning in the things that have already been accomplished, we’ve just lost on the timing side.
JL: Well, sometimes policy happens because it’s just the right time.
SK: Can you tell us about the challenges associated with your programs running in Toronto and beyond, perhaps specifically SolarShare?
JL: We have a few things challenging us in Toronto with our solar program. There is a lot of shading in the city, and each roof that is a candidate to have a solar installation has to have certain characteristics. Companies need to still figure out what their strategies are. There is still a lot of speculation about solar energy and about how much you can make.
SK: What’s the benefit for companies working with TREC who want a roof installation?
JL: The piece we bring that is really important is the community aspect. We’re not just putting a system on the roof—a company’s customers can participate. Solar addresses all aspects of the sustainability triangle: the environmental and economic, but alone it doesn’t address the community aspect. We can complete that triangle if you partner with us. We are also looking into partnering with a school board to bring in the education side.
SK: Beyond the projects we’ve talked about, what do you hope to see in the future?
JL: We’d like to go province-wide with all projects, including our education programs. Everybody’s getting the word out. TREC offers a lot and I think people recognize that. There is still a strong resistance in some communities to wind power, but addressing those pieces: the behavioural change, and making people understand— that is what the technologies are about, and what the opportunities are for renewables.
TREC’s programs are designed to help Torontonians, and Toronto-based companies, try to act more sensibly by implementing renewable projects. With the OPA’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program now in place, TREC is going forward with ambitious generation development plans. Built on the experience of the WindShare Exhibition Place wind turbine project, TREC has submitted a FIT contract application for a 20-megawatt (MW) wind farm project near Bervie, Ontario that will be called Lakewind. The newly incorporated Lakewind Power Co-operative Inc. is a for-profit cooperative of Ontarians that will develop and own the project, which will be the largest co-operatively owned, wind power project in Canada.
• The project will consist of ten 2-megawatt wind turbines standing 108 metres or 35 storeys high
• Each of their three blades measure 41 metres in length
• The Lakewind project will generate an average of 50,000 megawatt hours of power per year, equivalent to the electricity needs of over 13,000 homes
• The turbine will help displace some of the harmful chemicals that are responsible for smog and acid rain and will displace up to 14,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide annually.
In addition to Lakewind, TREC has other exemplary programs in the works, one of them being the SolarShare co-operative. SolarShare, which has been in development for two years, is a co-operative that will build multiple rooftop solar-electric projects of up to 250kW in size, which it will finance, develop, maintain and operate. According to TREC, revenues from energy sales will be at set rates guaranteed under 20-year contracts with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). This will happen under Ontario’s new Feed-In Tariff (FIT) Program, a part of the new Green Energy and Green Economy Act.
SolarShare’s key objectives
1. Develop at minimum of two commercialgrade, community-owned projects in 2010 and four in 2011
2. Make its projects replicable and assist other organizations elsewhere in Ontario to develop a minimum of two additional commercial-grade community-owned projects in 2010 and four in 2011
3. Demonstrate that renewable energy can provide extremely competitive and attractive investment opportunities, generating for its investors, a minimum pre-tax rate of return of 8 per cent (IRR).
4. Maximize the education and engagement of the Ontario public about the benefits of renewable energy and, specifically, community- owned renewable energy projects.
5. Develop and circulate all possible bestpractices documents incorporating the co-op principles including:
a. Maximum transparency
b. Maximum fairness and equity to all parties involved
c. Minimum negative environmental impacts
TREC’s ‘Our Power’ project was a response to the success of the community bulk purchase model first used by the Riverdale Initiative for Solar
Energy (RISE) in Toronto in 2006. The Our Power model bundles solar system orders together into a professional renewable energy project that uses a competitive bidding process to select the best vendor offers. While continually refining and standardizing this model, Our Power has facilitated the installation of 95 solar electric systems and 76 solar hot water systems in Southern Ontario over the past two years.
Our Power has leveraged its website, and more recently its new wiki site, to support established and aspiring community solar projects as well as individual buyers. A web-accessible toolkit is available for communities, featuring a step-bystep outline of the process, complete with links to materials and resources that simplify each phase of the project. Please visit the Our Power website for more details and to learn how to form your own solar neighbourhood.
Financial Benefits of Solar Energy
A Solar PV system on a south facing roof in Southern Ontario will produce roughly 1100 kilowatt hours(kWh)/kilowatt/year
• The Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-In-Tariff program will pay generators of PV electricity 80.2 cents/kWh over 20 years
• A 3-kilowatt system would generate $2,650/year in revenue and offer an annualized 4per cent return on investment*
• Solar Hot Water Systems offset roughly 50 per cent of natural gas or electricity consumption for hot water heating
• Over $3,500 of incentives are available in 2009 for solar hot water systems
• Rather than giving away money to your utility, you are investing it in an asset that increases the value of your home
• Solar Hot Water Systems protect owners from energy cost inflation
*this is an estimate based on an average case
Social and Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy
Solar PV electricity directly offsets the dirtiest, most inefficient and most expensive mid-day natural gas and coal-fired power generation
• A 3 kilowatt system will displace up to 0.79 tonnes of CO²/ year
• A solar hot water system reduces the amount of natural gas burned in your home that deposits noxious particulate emissions right in your backyard
• One system will displace up to 0.62 tonnes of CO²/year
• Solar energy technologies are more labour intensive/per installed unit of energy produced, creating jobs in your local community • Both types of systems are fuelled by a domestic energy source, solar radiation, increasing the security of our energy supply
For more infor mation on TREC or its programs, www.tr ec.on.ca.