Renewable energy for the Next Generation: An interview with Dennis Bartels

 

Dennis Bartels is an avid supporter of Community Power. He is a member of a charity, Next Generation Energy Alternatives, which communally purchases solar bonds and uses the dividends to fund public renewable energy education initiatives.

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Tell me a bit about who you are and what you do.

I’m a retired anthropologist.

 

Do you remember when you first became interested in renewable energy?

Alice Bartels and I have done a lot of research together. We became concerned about global climate change in 1989-1990 when we attended a seminar at the Scott Polar Research Institute in England. The speaker explained how combustion of fossil fuels was contributing to global climate change, and that this would bring an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

At the time, a Scott Polar Research Institute scientist returned from a voyage under the Arctic on a British nuclear submarine, and he reported a significant reduction in the thickness of the polar ice cap.

When we came back to Canada, we joined WindShare. We were very excited when the wind turbine at the CNE went up.

 

WindShare Turbine at Exhibition Place in Toronto
WindShare Turbine at Exhibition Place in Toronto

And following that came your investment in SolarShare?

Before joining SolarShare, we were hoping LakeWind would go ahead. But when it started looking like it wasn’t going to, we transferred our investment to SolarShare. It was a very good decision because SolarShare has done so well.

In 2007, we helped to start a non-profit co-op, Next Generation Energy Alternatives (NGEA), with a goal of mounting photovoltaics on urban roofs to displace greenhouse gas emissions.

 

I’m glad you brought up NGEA – I currently know it as a charity, but it began as a co-op?

We were a non-profit co-op. Our first corporate member was Balzac’s coffee; we received a sustainability grant from Mountain Equipment Co-op; and we supported the installation of the PV system on the roof of the Neighbourhood Unitarian Church in the Beach area of Toronto.

But in 2007, before the Green Energy Act, we found that co-ops were not allowed to sell power to the grid, and so NGEA became a charity.

 

Can you tell me a bit about the direction of NGEA after you realized you wouldn’t be able to sell power to the grid?

It took most of our time and money to become a charity, but we succeeded. Our charitable mandate is to deploy renewable energy technologies, and to educate the public about the link between renewable energy technologies and the environment.

Because of the requirement that you have to own roof space before you can get a micro-FIT contract, we realized that the direction to go to deploy renewable energy technologies was to buy SolarShare bonds. NGEA also bought a ZooShare bond. The dividends allow NGEA to finance our educational activities. This has worked out very well.

 

It really is a brilliant model for a charity; the money comes from members for energy investments, and filters back to allow for more education and more energy development. Can you talk about your future goals for NGEA?

We’ve fulfilled the pledge we made to our original members, back around 2007, and that was to use renewable energy technologies to displace greenhouse gases. Thanks to SolarShare and ZooShare, we are doing that. We could not have done it without SolarShare.

As far as I know, we are just going to keep doing what we’re doing, raising funds to buy more bonds from SolarShare and other renewable energy co-ops, and using the dividends to finance our educational events.

In the spring, we are thinking of going to the Toronto Zoo to meet the animals who will produce poo for ZooShare.

Tonight is NGEA’s AGM, so this interview is in preparation for that. We have members in four provinces, and we hope to increase our membership tonight. We are operating on a small scale, but nevertheless, I think we are succeeding.

 

Individually, are you involved in any other projects you’d like to talk about?

As an individual, not as a representative of Next Generation Energy Alternatives, I own bonds in SolarShare and the Oxford Community Energy Co-operative. Alice and I were interested from the very beginning in wind power, and we like co-ops.

 

Would you consider yourself an optimist about the renewable energy transition?

I am, in a lot of ways. What encourages me most is the involvement of young people who are energetic, highly-educated, and very dedicated.

I’m also encouraged by the fossil fuel divestment movement, which is going strong.

At the same time, I’m hoping it won’t be too little, too late. Global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are not stopping, not even slowing down. We have to keep doing as much as we can, and more.

There is movement, but there’s got to be more involvement at government levels. Ontario is a good example, but other provinces and the Federal government need to do more.

 

What do you think is currently the most exciting advancement in the sector – in Canada or around the world?

Divestment is pretty exciting. The rapid expansion of renewables is also pretty exciting.

One thing we should especially pay attention to is storage technologies. As you know there are several experimental projects here in Ontario, and it is really interesting to keep track of those.

I hope to see storage technologies get as much attention and support as conventional fossil fuels do. They don’t at the moment, but this is another thing that we can change.

 

2011 trip 24[1]
Dennis and Alice Bartels

If someone is on the fence or unsure how to get involved, is there one first step you can recommend?

It is very exciting if people can get involved in SolarShare – buying bonds, helping with publicity, teaching kids about renewable energy. You can do these things even if you, as an individual, don’t own a roof. And many apartment and condo dwellers don’t.

You don’t have to assemble money on your own to buy a SolarShare bond. You can form a pool to do it. That’s what NGEA does. This allows people who don’t have a lot of money, or don’t have a lot of time, or don’t have roof space, to participate in generating clean energy. We have to let more and more people know that this is possible. It also forms a community – it’s a lot of fun to see the SolarShare projects generating clean energy, with the meters right there on the website. Get together with other people and go online and say, hey, that’s what WE’RE doing!

 

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like Our Power readers to know?

I’d like to thank SolarShare again for all the good work they’ve done. It has really helped us a lot. It has allowed us to fulfill the promise we originally made to our members to use renewable energy technologies to displace greenhouse gases, so thanks again.

 

 

Header image source: “scott polar research institute, cambridge” by “bobhall106” is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Categories: Interviews
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