The pressing issue of climate change presents an opportunity not only to transition to clean, renewable energy sources, but also to do so in a more socially equitable way. As of 2014, while only 27% of Germany’s electricity comes from renewable energy sources, an incredible 65% of the wind and solar energy in Germany is owned by individuals, farmers and communities.
By enabling citizen involvement and decentralizing energy grids, renewable energy production can provide additional benefits to local communities. This participation can occur through a bottom-up approach of community cooperatives, or a top-down approach of individuals purchasing shares in a renewable energy facility.
When citizens have a stake in the production (financially or through decision-making), they are more willing to support its earlier adoption. In situations where communities may have to make compromises for a renewable energy project to go through (e.g. a solar garden would affect the view of some residents), the opportunity to financially benefit from the project and have decision making abilities (through the one-member, one-vote principle), eases social tension.
In Germany, citizens and communities are the major drivers for the transition to renewable energy. If we would like to see a greater uptake of renewable energy in Ontario and in Canada, we need people-powered change to shift the views of those that say “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) to renewable energy, to instead say “yes in my backyard” (YIMBY) to renewable energy co-op projects. Renewable energy co-op projects support a more decentralized grid that provides greater support in major grid blackouts, create green jobs, provide environmental and health benefits, and allow the public to not just be seen as customers to electricity crown corporations, but instead as participants who are guiding the transition.
In Ontario, there was backlash over the placement of offshore wind turbines on the Great Lakes. If these residents and others across Ontario were provided further opportunities to participate in projects proposed in their communities, and even invest in (and profit from) them, this would naturally facilitate greater social acceptance. Renewable energy co-ops bring clean energy projects out of the domain of big energy companies and into the hands of local citizens.
The FIT program in Ontario has provided incentives to project applications with community or Aboriginal involvement, but as the policy landscape continues to shift, what opportunities will be available for community participation in the energy sector?
To learn more about the future of community energy in Ontario and meet co-ops from across Ontario, attend our “Powering People Forward” event on Wednesday November 18th – 7-9:30 pm in Toronto.
Power to the People Image: Co-operative News, “Groups call for more democratic energy system”
Anti-wind billboard image: Ontario Wind Resistance website
Westmill Solar Co-op, “Who Are We”