SPICE enables investment in community-powered solar

· The Pulse

A solar cooperative is now accepting investments from the public to build renewable-energy infrastructure on community buildings.

The Solar Power Investment Cooperative of Edmonton (SPICE) is inviting members to invest $1,000 or more to finance the installation of solar arrays, starting with the Bissell Thrift Shop on 118 Avenue.

"Some solar cooperatives start at $5,000. We really wanted to lower any barriers to being part of this," said Raquel Feroe, a founding board member of SPICE. "In the future, we'd like to lower that even more."

SPICE members are eligible to buy shares in the project, starting at $1,000. They are paid back through two years of lease payments that the community organization — in this case, Bissell — pays for the system. The project also sells electricity back to the grid. (Lifetime memberships in SPICE are $50, and there are a few other criteria for investors.)

Investors are very likely to make their money back, with a return on investment, SPICE board director Annette Dautel told Taproot.

"I would say it's extremely unlikely that investors will not see their complete investment returned, plus some dividends," she said. "We only pick partners that we really see as trustworthy and working with this (model)."

As of June 12, SPICE had accrued about $45,000 in its first raise, which will close when it hits $250,000 or in October 2024, whichever comes first. Funds raised beyond what it costs to complete the Bissell project will be used for additional SPICE builds.

The project is not just about renewable energy or revenue generation — it also helps build job skills. SPICE's preferred installer is Newo Global Energy, a non-profit that trains Bissell clients and other overlooked workers to install solar panels.

"This journey together is part of envisioning a different future for all of us," said Louise Traynor, Bissell's chief operating officer. "Not just people experiencing poverty, not just people who have the capacity to invest, not just people who care about the environment, not just people who care about community. This is one small piece of — all of us together — imagining a better future."

A large group of people stand to the right of a solar panel array on a rooftop. The sky behind them is cloudy and grey.

Newo Global Energy trained workers to install solar panels at the Bissell Centre's Downtown West site, and it will do the same with the Bissell Thrift Shop project financed by the Solar Power Investment Cooperative of Edmonton. (Supplied)

Newo and Bissell previously collaborated on the centre's Downtown West location at 10530 96 Street. That project, which was funded by grants and donations rather than by investors, gave the building functioning solar generation in addition to an array that is used exclusively for job training.

"(Bissell West) was very successful and revealed the door that was needed," said Newo founder Rajan "Raj" Rathnavalu. "The door that we're hoping to open is regular, steady, rhythmic employment for people who need work, and to complete work that desperately needs to be done."

Investment from SPICE makes it possible to spread more of that benefit around.

"We're a society with enormous wealth and abundance, and yet live in this scarcity model," Rathnavalu said. "Here we have a project that includes social benefit, ecological benefit, economic benefit."

SPICE has further projects in the works and is ready to accept proposals from other community-oriented building owners.

"If they have interest in community building, if they have interest in working together to ensure that benefits accrue to the community, then we're interested in working with them," Feroe said.

Correction: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Raquel Feroe's position with SPICE and to clarify what it takes to become an investor.