Wintergreen Studios, the eco-lodge/educational retreat on Canoe Lake Road near Godfrey, birthed a new and separate business in November 2012. The Wintergreen Renewable Energy Co-op was founded following a community energy retreat that was held at the lodge that summer. The idea to form the co-op came about in June 2012 and its mission, according to its president and founding director David Hahn, is to “promote and develop renewable energy projects in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington region; offer investment opportunities; and educate people about the value of renewable energy.”
Those and other topics were the focus of this year’s Community Energy Retreat, which took place at Wintergreen on June 13. Members of the co-op and their partner, SolarShare, were on hand to discuss their recent partnership.
Since its founding, the Wintergreen Renewable Energy Co-op had engaged TREC (the project incubator of SolarShare) to do work for the co-op on a contractual basis. The work included evaluating one of the co-op’s potential projects and acting as their back office once members of the co-op began investing. Hahn said that once the co-op began focusing on three potential large scale solar projects in the Kingston area and after speaking with an EPC (an engineering procurement and construction company) about the projects, it became clear that the co-op “needed certainty about our being able to raise the funds to a level of security required by the EPC to purchase the potential project(s).”
It was then that that the co-op entered into a partnership with SolarShare, who was able to provide the additional financial security that the EPC required. “At that point we realized that we could not give them [the EPC] the certainty that we would be able to buy the project if they developed it, so we started talking to SolarShare and have since developed an agreement with them,” Hahn said.
SolarShare is currently the largest renewable energy co-op in Canada and develops commercial-scale solar electricity installations, offering investors the opportunity to “invest ethically and with impact, with 100% of the invested funds directly financing solar projects and helping to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.” The non-profit co-op offers investors Solar Bonds, which pay a fixed 5% annual return on a minimum investment of $1,000 for a 5-year term. The co-op, which to date has developed 23 solar projects in Ontario totaling 1.2 MW of capacity, generates revenue by selling the electricity they produce. The bonds are backed by 20-year power purchase agreements with the Ontario Power Authority.
Under the new partnership, Wintergreen and SolarShare will continue to explore projects to develop in the Kingston area. Wintergreen will also encourage their own members to invest in Solar Bonds and SolarShare will pay a fee directly back to Wintergreen Co-op to cover the costs of operations.
The partnership was discussed at length at the June 13 retreat with presentations by David Hahn, by SolarShare president Mike Brigham, and by Julie Leach, the company's community investment and marketing manager. There were also keynote presentations by Kristina Inrig of the Community Energy Network of Eastern Ontario, who also spoke on sustainable investing, and Paul McKay, who spoke about renewable energy developments. Following lunch was a workshop on SolarShare's Solar Bonds.
For investors wanting to go green, with a fixed 5% annual return, the Wintergreen Renewable Energy Co-op and Solar Bonds seem well worth looking into. For more information visit www.wintergreencoop.com.