by Mitchell Beer
It isn’t every day that we can take the expertise from a decades-long career and put it to work solving one of the toughest challenges facing our world. But that’s what longtime Alta Vista resident Dick Bakker is doing as President of the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative (OREC), an organization that has raised $3.5 million for local renewable energy projects over the last five years. OREC has already flipped the switch on nine solar rooftop installations across Ottawa. It’s in the midst of a share offering to raise $1.7 million for its next series of projects.
Time to Change the Energy System
Bakker’s vision for transforming the energy system comes from his experience in telecommunications and information technology. “I’ve watched that industry change from centralized to distributed computing, from big telco networks to the Internet,” he says. “Now I see how rigid the electricity system is, and our reliance on big, centralized power sources just doesn’t make sense.” In Europe, small businesses, farmers, and faith communities have banded together to build their own clean energy systems. “Ownership of renewable power in Europe is much more localized and decentralized, and communities have more impact and investment in it,” he says. “Co-ops are a way to do that here.” Bakker says local renewable energy projects can also come to grips with a very large, global problem. “Climate change is happening, but it’s such a big thing” he says. “If we’re going to change anything, it’s going to happen locally.” More than 400 people have joined OREC “to get onboard with changing the energy supply through co-operative initiative.”
YES in My Backyard: From ‘NIMBY’ to ‘YIMBY’
A distinguishing feature of rooftop solar projects – like the 150-kilowatt system atop École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité on Smyth Road, a joint venture between OREC and the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est – is that people are proud to have them in their neighbourhoods. Nobody wants a nuclear plant or a tar sands/oil sands tailings pond in their backyard. (No. Really. You really don’t.) But when ‘Not In My Backyard’ becomes the reflexive response to any energy development, nobody wins.
“With a co-op, people will say ‘yes, put this in my backyard!” Bakker says. “If I own it, it’s a part of me.” And every small increment of energy matters. “On the Internet, lots of little, individual bits of computing power add up to a lot of power. In electricity, lots of little, distributed points of power will add up to a mega, will basically add up to a nuclear reactor, and then to another one and another,” he says. “Solar, combined with little run-of-river hydro projects, combined with wind, combined with biogas, combined with lots of energy efficiency, that mixture is the future.”
Income You Can Count On
A contract under Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program offers a guaranteed, 20-year income stream for a rooftop solar energy system – but not everyone has space for their own panels. “I tell anybody, if you can, you should,” Bakker says. “We formed OREC for people who can’t do it for themselves, but can pool their money with others to build bigger facilities.” The co-op’s current share offering closes October 31, and an important consideration is that dollars placed with OREC are an investment, not a donation – the co-op is aiming for a 5% annual return on a 20-year preference share. Bakker is encouraging friends, family, and neighbours to join the co-op – a lifetime membership costs $100 – then invest their hard-earned cash in a way that builds a stronger community and a future without runaway climate change. For more information, visit the co-op’s website at orec.ca/Ask-Bakker, or call Operations Manager Janice Ashworth at 613-296-8232.
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