Renewable energy is one of the key topics to be addressed at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec. Leaders from across various co-operative sectors will discuss how renewable energy co-operatives can remain agile and innovative.
Judith Lipp, Executive Director of the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative is one of the keynote speakers at the Summit. Prior to the summit, she shared her view on the role of co-ops in renewable energy.
Founded in 1998, the TREC renewable Energy Co-operative is a non-profit organisation based in Ontario, Canada, focusing on renewable energy and energy conservation. With its new approach, the co-op has become a recognised leader in the sector in Ontario.
Ms Lipp said this Summit is of great importance because it brings together leaders from all over the world, enabling them to exchange ideas and experiences.
“These events are about networking, hearing from other people and dealing with some challenges which are common across the co-op sector,” she said. Ms Lipp further explained how the renewable energy sector is unique, especially because it is difficult to maintain a direct relation with members. She thinks the Summit will enable leaders to share some of the best practices around to keep people engaged.
The main challenge for a renewable energy co-op, according to Ms Lipp, is competing in a sector dominated by multinational corporations. This makes it more difficult for co-ops to appeal to people, who have lost trust and are sceptical about the corporate run renewable energy projects.
Judith Lipp thinks co-ops can propose a new approach by engaging people in these projects.
“We need to start enabling communities participate directly in projects that are in their backyards. You cannot move a wind turbine; the resources are local and should be there for the benefit of the local communities. Co-ops are a good mechanism to do that, there are certainly other models, but this model has been tried and tested. It is an important development,” she said.
Another main challenge for co-ops is financing. Ms Lipp said it is difficult is to have everything planned and obtain the approvals whilst also raising the funding necessary to develop the project.
“It is very difficult to go out and ask people if you do not have all approvals. We have the sort of timing issues as well as the issue of how do we pay for all costs? How do we bridge that? As new entities most do not have a long transaction history with financial institutions,” she explained.
In spite of these challenges, TREC has so far proven to be very successful. “People do actually want are interested and committed to renewable energy,” said Ms Lipp.
TREC is also involved in raising awareness on renewable energy and runs various educational programmes for school children under 'TREC Education'. TREC also organises a Kids Festival every year and has had a design competition. All these projects are aimed at getting the youth involved.
“We are trying to appeal to different students and give them the chance the explore various issues. They are the next generation of decision makers, and will be investing in the co-ops”.