Power to the People!

A lesson in building a sustainable community from Brant County

By Devon Thompson

What does the title of this article mean to you? Is it a radical movement or is it a rebellion against oppressors? Perhaps it’s the title of a song, from John Lennon or Jamaican Reggae band, Rootz Underground. The phrase ‘Power to the People’ can be used in many contexts but today the title of this article represents the creation of a self-sustaining solution to provide the population with energy. One that is adopted first at a community level and then scales up to a global level.

Conventional energy such as oil has been tearing our environment apart for hundreds of years. Today it accounts for a very large percentage of deductions from our yearly salary. The earth needs to be protected from environmental disasters caused by oil and other forms of conventional energy.

The fight for sustainability is being fought extensively in Canada by various for-profit and non-profit organizations. To recognize these organizations for their contributions in Canadian economic development, job creation, and prosperity, the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) shines a spotlight on their achievements during the annual Power Prosperity Awards Dinner.

Brant Renewable Energy (BRE) was one of the organizations nominated to win an award at the ceremony in January of 2015. The categories were: 20/20 Leadership Award, Aboriginal Project of the Year Award, Community Project of the Year Award and Developer of the Year Award. It is important to note that Brant Renewable Energy is the only company that was nominated in almost all categories.

BRE has vast experience in strategic partnership development and turn-key project development. When asked what they thought made BRE a strong contender to win all of these awards at OSEA’s Powering Prosperity Awards, Director Brooke Hayward replied “Brant is showcasing what is possible to achieve as a small municipality of only 40,000 people. The goal is to champion a positive paradigm for sustainable energy that can be adopted by neighbouring cities.”

In 2012 Brant County recognized the benefits associated with shared ownership in renewable energy projects and decided to encourage the development of a local renewable energy co-operative. On behalf of the County, BRE assisted in the development of the Sustainability Brant Community Energy Co-operative (SBC). The goal of this local co-operative was to provide an opportunity to members of the community to be an owner and investor in the County’s renewable energy projects.

In the next part of this article we will go over the diverse endeavours that have made BRE a candidate for nomination in multiple categories.

In an article on September 10, 2013, Michael-Allan Marion wrote of a 20 year contract agreement between the Brant County and the Sustainability Brant Community Energy Co-operative, under Ontario’s FIT program. The contract would see the development of two separate solar panel

Brant Renewable Energy Logo

projects, generating a combined total of 350 kilowatts.

What’s exciting is that they expected an annual return of investment exceeding 7% over the contract period, with the county owning 70% of the equity and the co-operative owning 30%.

Mr. Marion wrote about a partnership on another solar panel deal, but this time it was between Brant county and Six Nations. The partnership had placed BRE in the position to work with a neighbouring First Nation community. This deal involved the development of two Solar Panel projects under Ontario Power Authority’s FIT program. Mr. Marion reported that Brant County council had approved the development of a 250 KW solar panel project at BGI Retail in the Brant Business Park. BGI owned a 55% share, Brant County owned 30% of the share, and Six Nations had 15%. Mr. Marion then made mention of a second council approved solar project which would generate 500 KW at the Oneida Business Park at Six Nations, who would own 90% of the share with Brant County owning the remainder. BRE was contracted to manage the development of both projects, using local contractors from the county as well as from the Six Nations community.

Brant County and Brant Renewable Energy’s intense drive for community self-sustainability has allowed them to create a successful partnership with Six Nations, not just the 500 KW solar panel system at Oneida Business Park, but two other projects; a 500 KW Solar Panel System at Brant Business Park, and a 500 KW hydro-power system at Paris Penman’s Dam, still under the application process, which will be completed in the summer of 2015. The hydro-power system will place BRE one step closer to becoming a full service renewable energy provider. Brant County has also expressed it’s willingness to ensure that qualified Six Nations workers of various disciplines receive a fair opportunity to be employed in these projects.

Sustainability Brant Community Energy Co-op (SBC) has also benefited from Brant County’s endeavours, placing valuable assets in the hands of its residents. These assets are shares in present and future solar panel systems which will be developed through the partnership of both entities.

In August 2014, a bid was announced inviting Brant County residents to participate in an investment that would raise $1-million for the development of two separate solar panel systems totalling 350 KW on the rooftops at the Brant Sports Complex and the South Dumfries Community Centre. They were successful, as the solar panel system at Brant Sports Complex achieved commercial operation in November 2014 and the system in South Dumfries began its operation in March 2015.

The 250 KW Solar Panel System at BGI Retail began commercial operation in March, 2015. BRE has told us that the 500 KW solar panel system which is to be developed at Oneida Business Park is currently under construction and will be completed by August 2015.

Brant County in its partnerships involving SBC, Six Nations and BGI, has 3 Solar Panel Systems in operation; the Brant Sports Complex system, the South Dumfries Community Centre system and the BGI

Sustainability Brant Community Energy Coop Logo

system, totalling 600 KW in power. Currently, these partnerships have three new projects in the works, totalling 1,250 KW in power, the newest of the three being a 250 KW system for the Burford Arena, which will be developed in the spring of 2016.

These systems are beacons to be shown to the world. They represent the strength and the willingness of the County of Brant to take charge of its own prosperity, ensuring a bright future for its residents. BRE will continue to grow, as one of their main goals for the future is to acquire several LRP (Large Renewable Procurement) contracts, which generally involve renewable energy systems larger than 500 KW.

Membership in the SBC has grown to over 80 members with over $400,000 in shares sold to these members. Frank Farkas, President of Sustainability Brant County Energy Co-op observes that “Projects like the Brant Sports Complex Solar are a fantastic example of how individuals can come together to make their communities more sustainable.”

Brant Renewable Energy has forged highly successful relationships with multiple parties: the local community through the SBC, the Six Nations community through its development contracts, private businesses, and non-profits. All the while creating jobs and economic benefits for everybody involved!

Compliments must be given where they are due to Brant County’s Mayor Ron Eddy and Brant County council for their vision in working to make Brant Ontario’s leader in sustainable energy.

BRE and its community projects are great examples of making OSEA’s vision a reality. A vision that seeks to transform Ontario’s energy sector to be 100% sustainable, decentralized, and integrated, powering, heating, cooling and moving a growing population.

To spread its vision, the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association must continue to grow its membership. It must involve businesses, communities and public sector entities in its activities, such as Green Energy Doors Open, a province-wide, year-round initiative that aims to showcase advancements in the sector, demonstrating that Ontario is already on the path to building a 100% clean, sustainable energy system.

The showcase day is Saturday, October 3, 2015, and will also include events in Alberta where the initiative is supported and organized by our partners at the Decentralised Energy Canada. The initiative has also sparked interest in Vancouver and the United States of America and OSEA hopes to see Green Energy Doors Open grow into a North America-wide initiative, spreading the idea that building a sustainable energy system is done best by involving the local communities. To get us there, lots of of work has to be done and a lot of awareness to be raised.

Every individual reading this article can take action. Spread the word to your community about the necessity of sustainable energy for a sustainable future and come out to events near youduring Green Energy Doors Open on October 3rd!