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URBAN HIPPIE: Courting local green investors — meet the Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative

The Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative is looking for green investors. Photography by Christian Lalonde / Photolux

Urban Hippie by Jen Lahey is published every second Tuesday at Follow Jen on Twitter ‏@Jen_Lahey.

Potential new members are invited to join the OREC team at their AGM on Nov. 22 to learn about projects and the OREC model.

Looking to invest in something that actually matches your green values? Or maybe you’re super nerding out about solar energy, but your house faces the wrong way or just isn’t suited to installing a set-up.

One Ottawa initiative aims to give savvy investors a chance to meet these varied needs. Janice Ashworth is the operations manager of the Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative and she says that OREC is a way for investors to make the community both greener and more self-reliant.

So how does this whole thing work?
Here are the basics: The co-op works like this: Investors buy in, then OREC pools that money to buy renewable energy systems in the city. The idea is for members to contribute to green power in Ottawa, even if they can’t install their own system where they live. Plus, more people equals more buying power.

Anyone is welcome to buy in, investments are for 20 years, and there are yearly dividend payments plus return of capital. An added bonus is RRSP transferability: Existing or new contributions to self directed RRSPs can be transferred into OREC shares. Membership is $100 for life and investments (at least in the first share offering) were a minimum of $5,000 and maximum of $100,000. OREC aims to pay a 5% dividend annually on the remainder of capital and a return of capital starting in year six.

Here’s some of the reasons why Ashworth says OREC is a good investment:
“OREC makes it possible for citizens of Ottawa to get in the green energy game. It enables each of us to choose to park our long term investments in local green activities that are making a tangible difference in our community,” says Ashworth. “By voting with their money, OREC members are choosing the soft energy path as opposed to the hard or centralized energy model based on fossil fuels or nuclear power, [which are] terms coined by Amory Lovins in 1970s.”

“The soft path is one in which communities are involved in producing the energy they use on a daily basis… This community is a catalyst for change. The more people who are involved in generating green power, the more public awareness about green energy options will increase, which will in turn develop a conscience of conservation and reduction in energy consumption.”

How’s it going so far?
OREC currently has around 150 members and has raised close to $1 million. The first projects are being installed on the roofs of housing cooperatives around Ottawa, and the first one will be connected on Nov. 26.

So, who else doing this in Ontario?
According to Ashworth, there are already a few other renewable energy coops in Ontario. “The first one was the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-op, or TREC, with their wind turbine in Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto. They have since created a few other co-ops, including Solar Share and Wind Share in the Greater Toronto area. Agris Solar is a co-op of farmers installing solar systems across the province. We are the only co-op in Ottawa for this purpose. There are likely 15 to 20 more co-ops that are in developmental stages.”

Potential new members are invited to join the OREC team at their AGM on Nov. 22 to learn about projects and the OREC model.