There is one resource in particular of which Saskatchewan has no shortage, and a Saskatoon-based co-operative is taking advantage.
The Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) Solar Co-operative has been working to convert the 2,267 hours of sunshine Saskatoon gets each year into a usable power source. Since it started in 2014 the co-op has built three solar panel installations in the city.
The first project was installed at a popular co-working space called the TwoTwenty. The second project, in partnership with the City of Saskatoon, was installed at the Landfill Gas Generation Station. Most recently, SES Solar Co-op completed a rooftop project at Montgomery Agencies in the north end of the city. Each of the projects has 80 to 90 solar panels, and produce around 33,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year.
The co-operative model was a natural choice for an organization focused on renewable energy, according to board member Jason Praski. Co-operatives capture the “energy of people” with their community-driven structure, Praski said. He added that co-ops are often a solution when it comes to spurring positive change.
“Where the public sees a need or individuals see a need it often is the case where, like a lot of change… a co-operative is a good place to start that change if the establishment isn’t.”
The solar co-operative was created after crowd-sourcing $59,000 during Affinity Credit Union’s Business for Good Social Venture Challenge in 2014. The credit union also awarded the co-operative $50,000.
Now that it’s established, shareholders of the co-operative pay $50 for a common share (Class A), and $950 for a preferred share (Class B). For this $1,000, shareholders invest in the capacity of about one solar panel and can purchase as many Class B shares as they wish.
In return, the co-op sells power to the grid and distributes the profits to shareholders based on revenue from their Class B shares. Praski said the co-op currently has around 150 shareholders.
According to the SES Solar Co-op website, doing solar on your own can be costly. Becoming a shareholder in the co-op is a way for people interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be involved in solar energy, without the high cost of doing it themselves.
The solar co-op also fits with SaskPower’s aim to have 60 megawatts (MW) of solar power flowing into their grid by 2021. Twenty of these will come from SaskPower itself, 20 MW from the First Nations Power Authority, and 20 MW from community-based projects. Solar co-ops are one way to make up the community portion of this strategy.
But solar still faces some legislative barriers in the province. Praski said Saskatchewan’s first solar co-operative would like to see the province’s policies change to allow for more solar capacity. Currently SaskPower allows for up to 100 kw per project, but increasing this would help justify the creation of more solar-focused organizations, Praski said.
Being the first co-op of its kind in Saskatchewan has meant encountering hurdles, but Praski hopes that others will benefit from their efforts. During the co-op’s first years it has worked with the City of Saskatoon to improve permitting procedures, and developed a start-up manual for others to follow. This helpful document is available for free on the co-op’s website.
“We’re realizing … what it takes to do something not standardized,” Praski said. “It’s tough, but thankfully we all have a lot of energy and that foresight or vision to get things done. We produce solar energy but there’s that bigger energy of human capacity and willingness to do things that keeping us growing and evolving.”