Solar power co-op winner in Affinity social venture challenge

A project to set up Saskatchewan's first solar power co-operative farm captured the $50,000 prize tonight in Affinity Credit Union's Business for Good Social Venture Challenge.

Idea captures $50,000 prize in credit union's contest

A project to set up Saskatchewan's first solar power co-operative farm captured the $50,000 prize tonight in Affinity Credit Union's Business for Good Social Venture Challenge.

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society pitched the winning idea, snagging 630 votes and $59,000 through its own crowd-funding efforts.

"We've been totally blown away by the response," said SES executive director Allyson Brady. "We've been thrilled how many people have indicated that they want to support renewable energy in Saskatchewan."

The $109,000 total it raised through the competition puts it about 30 per cent of the way towards the capital it needs to set up the enterprise, said SES executive director Allyson Brady.

Rebates from power sold

The solar energy co-op will work like this:

Four hundred solar voltaic panels will be set up on a parcel of land to produce 100 kilowatts of power. Co-op members will be able to purchase one or more panels, for $900 each. The power will be sold to SaskPower or Saskatoon Light & Power (SES is still in negotiations with these two organizations).  Co-op members would continue to pay their power bills, but the co-op will reimburse them for the power their panel or panels makes throughout the year.

Based on SaskPower's offer so far of 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, a co-op member would recoup $700 of his or her $900 investment in 25 years.

Brady said SES is still hoping to negotiate a higher price.

"Certainly in Ontario you get 30 cents a kilowatt-hour," Brady noted.   

360 panels still for sale

Plenty of work still lies ahead. The SES needs to find a suitable site, choose which solar panels to use, and set up the co-op's legal structure.

Within a two-week period it has sold 40 panels, but needs to sell the remaining 360.

"Once we sell those panels we'll be ready to go. We'll be ready to install the panels and start producing electricity."

The co-op makes solar power accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford the investment individually, Brady explained. For an individual homeowner, that could involve 20 panels at a cost of $20,000.

But by joining the co-op "you can be in a condominium, you can be a renter, or if you move that investment still goes with you," Brady went on.

"I know for myself we have a home that solar just isn't suitable. We live in a very shaded area so the sun doesn't get to our roof, and we have a very high-pitched roof. So I was able to invest and buy in a panel and get solar energy in a way that I couldn't before."

Template for dozens more co-ops

Ultimately, the SES hopes to see a hundred solar power co-ops across the province, with the initial one forming the template.

The two other finalists in the competition were the Bridge City Bicycle Co-operative and the Good Food Junction co-operative grocery story on 20th Street.

The BCBC wants to set up Saskatoon's first community-owned second hand bike shop to refurbish and sell used bicycles and bike parts at affordable and accessible prices.  It's proposal garnered 454 votes and $17,634 through crowd-funding.     

The Good Food Junction wants to set up a deli and sell affordable take-out meals. That idea pulled in 197 votes and $13,767.

All three finalists will get free business development consulting service from a support team made up of the United Way, Unite Digital Marketing Co-operative and KPMG.

This is the first time Affinity organized this competition, said Fred Khonje, the credit union's community development manager, adding there may be another one next year.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a social enterprise or venture is a non-profit or charitable group that creates a special business that meets a central need in the community or generates revenue to help sustain the organization, Khonje explained.