Co-operatives working for wind: An interview with Alan Dale of Oxford Community Energy Co-op

Alan Dale sits on the Board of the Oxford Community Energy Co-operative, currently developing a 10MW community-owned wind farm in Oxford County.

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Tell me a bit about Oxford Community Energy Co-op – how did it all get started?

Oxford Community Energy Co-op began when Johannes Busmann from Prowind, a German wind energy company, was interested in starting a co-op here in Oxford County. Co-operatives are the German model for renewable energy, something that’s worked quite well over there.

Johannes got in touch with some interested people here, and they started to get the word out. There were a couple of articles in the media, and I was previously a municipal councillor, so this certainly piqued my interest. There has since been more media exposure, more word of mouth, and now we’re working to find more people interested in getting involved with it. The co-op is growing, membership is growing, and we’ve seen a lot of investment in it.

 

What are the benefits of the co-operative model for wind development?

We have a long history of co-operatives in this country, everything from insurance companies, banking co-ops, farmer co-ops – and so for a lot of people, energy co-ops are an opportunity to be a part-owner. You take on a different mindset because it’s not just somebody else’s wind turbines in your neighbourhood, there’s ownership there.

There’s also more pride, more passion – and the more people get involved and have a greater understanding, then of course they tell the friends and family they encounter, and the word spreads to the community. This definitely helps dispel some of the myths that are out there.

And then there are obviously in the environmental benefits and the economic benefits, because you crunch the numbers, look at how much you’re going to invest, and you see your returns on your investment in this clean renewable energy source.

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Oxford CEC at a local farm show

 

Providing local opportunities for investment and participation is a great way to educate people about this technology. Have you seen any changes in the way people feel about wind energy because of the co-op’s work?

Slowly. I think seeing is believing – once the turbines are actually up, there will be a lot of people that will wake up the next day and say “Oh, the world didn’t come crashing down!” Some people still have nagging doubts, and there is a vocal minority of people that fuel those fears, but slowly things are changing.

 

I understand that you’re working with a couple of local partners – what do Prowind and Six Nations bring to the table?

Prowind has majority ownership of the project, so they are the general partner, they take on the liability. They’ve got the technical expertise, they know the people and what needs to be done to get these turbines up and running. We’re quite comfortable letting them take the lead on that.

Six Nations are a great investor, and it’s another community of people that are being engaged through this project. Our project doesn’t have any active land claims associated with it, but we certainly value the support and investment of Six Nations First Nation. They also help us to spread the word to Brant County.

 

Please tell me a bit about your members and investors – who are they, and why have they chosen to get involved?

We really push for members in Oxford County, but we have members from outside as well. We have people with business connections here, family connections, or lived in Oxford previously. We’re a little over 150 members, and 30-40% are Oxford County residents.

Most members are also investors in the project. For the bonds, we wanted $1000 minimum investment, and for the shares, we wanted a minimum $5000 investment. We have people who invested the minimum, and others investing substantially more. It was a good spread. For future projects, we are definitely looking at becoming RRSP eligible – lots of people have asked us about this, and it’s something we are looking to put the time into for next time. There’s potential there.

 

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome as a co-operative?

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Oxford CEC was awarded “Community Project of the Year” at the 2015 Powering Prosperity Awards

This process is not just a matter of going out and erecting a turbine. It’s a lot to go through, lots of hoops, hurdles, and regulations. We wanted to do this right, and didn’t want people to be scared of investing in us. We wanted to make sure everything was looked after so we weren’t putting people’s money at risk.

The other challenge is keeping our members informed and interested – we got people excited when they invested, and now people are saying “we’ve given you the money, where’s the turbine?” But it has been worth it.

 

What’s next for Oxford CEC?

We’re eager to get construction underway, and keep our members involved. We are definitely looking at future projects, there is potential in wind and solar.

The County of Oxford has also been talking about the possibility of becoming 100% sustainable; they haven’t said anything officially but seem to be looking at a 25-year timeframe. If they’re interested, we are interested in working with them. There are a number of other solar installations around the County, they have some on County buildings, some schools, and some farms.

We are looking for partners, so if projects were to come along and looking for investors, we’d be happy to discuss that. This is just the beginning.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I think it’s been a tough go, but it’s worth it, and it is the better model. This is better than having a faceless, nameless large company that comes into town and puts up a project and we watch the dollars flow out of the community.

Oxford has talked about using local contractors, we look forward to them bidding on the project. It’s good for local employment, securing our clean energy future, more revenue for the municipality, and people are going to see the profits staying inside the community.

The co-op is a good model to go with.

 

Learn more about Oxford County and the wind project:

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