SolarShare Poised to Become Largest Solar Power Cooperative in North America

By Paul Gipe

SolarShare announced 8 July that the Ontario Power Authority has awarded it 4.9 MW in new feed-in tariff contracts. Combined with existing installations and projects currently underway, the new contracts will give the Ontario (Canada) cooperative a portfolio of more than 6.86 MW of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) capacity, making it the largest solar power cooperative in North America.

A spinoff from the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative, the developers of the first commercial urban wind turbine in North America, SolarShare now has 500 members. Each member invests in solar PV by buying solar bonds.

Under Ontario conditions, 7 MW of solar PV capacity will generate about 7.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, less than in California, but more than in Germany.

The cooperative operates 780 kW of existing solar PV plants and has slightly more than 6 MW of projects in various stages of construction and financing.

Ontario’s 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act instituted a program of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. Feed-in tariffs enable all Ontarians to invest in and own their own renewable generation.

Disclosure: SolarShare is a project of the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative (TREC). I worked for TREC in 2007, for the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association in 2004, and for the Green Energy Act Alliance in 2009.

The Feed-in Tariff program is administered by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). Under the program, OPA sets a fixed price that they will pay for different kinds of renewable energy. The price is determined in a transparent public process. Prices are contractually guaranteed for most forms of renewable energy for terms of 20 years.

Unlike in the USA, there are no tax subsidies for renewable energy in Canada or in the province of Ontario. Thus, there is no need in Ontario to develop complex ownership models to take advantage of tax subsidies and then “flip” ownership to the cooperative or its members. However, SolarShare’s bond offerings are regulated by the Ontario Financial Services Commission (FSCO).

The largest developer of community solar in the US is Clean Energy Collective in Carbondale, Colorado. The company has developed more than 10 MW of community-owned solar PV in 24 different projects in four states through partnerships with ten different distribution utilities.

In contrast to independent power producers in the US and Canada who consider production data proprietary, SolarShare makes publicly accessible the performance of their existing projects in real time.

There are 800 MW of community-owned renewable energy projects in various stages of development in Ontario.