Paul West is one of the newest Community Energy Development Co-operative members. He is a big fan of solar, and a firm believer in similar values to the co-operative movement. We met with Paul for a chat about how he got involved with CED Co-op, and his own investments in community and solar power.
How did you first get involved with CED Co-op?
Our insurance company for home and auto insurance is the Cooperators. I was talking to Julia White, our agent in Waterloo, about my interest in solar and actually investing in solar. She said, “You need to talk to the people at CED Co-op.” So she put me in touch with Carole (Patterson, Manager, Business Services for CED Co-op). After hearing Carole explain the initial investment I was happy to invest.
We joined very late in 2016. It was just in time to get an investment in 2016, then a second one in 2017 through Bonds Series N1-5.
Insurance with The Co-operators, now investment in CED Co-op – is the co-op business model important to you, or is this just a coincidence?
It happens to be just the way it shook out, but I’m very glad for it.
I live on what used to be a farm. We grow a small quantity of vegetables on it and use the excess to help people cooperatively. I believe that things should be productive. Likewise, I believe that people should cooperate and help each other wherever possible.
I believe we should have a charter of responsibilities. Sometimes we don’t have the ability to provide for ourselves, but when we can, I think we have the responsibility to help our neighbours. It is a good model to have people working together, helping each other, living sustainably.
One of the reasons why we’re here is to be good stewards of the Earth and to work together. We should be nurturing relationships and helping each other.
So, yes, I do have a deep set of values that are rooted in the concept of cooperation.
You’re right, that is very much in line with the cooperative movement. Community and participation are integral to the 7 co-operative principles.
What drove you to search out investment opportunities in solar?
Two things came together. I’ve been interested in solar from both a financial and technical perspective for a long time. When microFIT first came out I went to one of the very first seminars. Roof-top contracts were paying 80 cents per kWh but I was too scared to invest!
As the idea had time to simmer in my head I got more comfortable with it. I connected with a firm in Acton, went to a few open houses, and thought, “this is something I want to do.” We ended up putting a roof-top microFIT system on our home.
While I was making the decision to do that, I was fortunate enough to receive a small retirement allowance. I had a little money that I felt responsible to invest wisely so I started looking around for opportunities. In addition to the microFIT on my home I invested in a Net Metering system and started looking for other options.
I was also able to help a neighbour who lives near us. He had a contract for a microFIT system and didn’t want to pay for it because a different investment opportunity come up. So he allowed me to invest in his MicroFIT system.
I really believe that in solar there are three things: investors with capital, locations for systems, and the technical work required to put the deal together. Before I knew about CED Co-op I was thinking about putting together a mutual fund to do exactly what you are doing – bring together investors, opportunities and systems.
Your investments already sound like a small CED Co-op – investing in solar projects and earning returns!
Well, I believe in the concept! I was thrilled to be able to invest with CED Co-op, and I hope there are opportunities to invest in the future.
I love solar because I trust it. It’s a wholesome investment. We’re investing in something that’s good, helping people, and helping the environment. I believe in it.
I was just going to ask – what do you look for in an investment opportunity?
I wouldn’t invest in a company that manufactures pistols, for example. Given the choice between a gas automobile company and electric vehicle company I would choose electric because I think it is better for society.
The return should be there. When you aren’t working you rely on investments for your income, but the values have to be there too.
What do you see in the future of the solar and renewable energy – as someone who has both technical and financial interest?
Canadian winters are tough with snow. I think that we can’t have too much solar on the grid, or the supply will be too variable. As battery technology becomes more affordable that will be good. I would also like to see small windmills in people’s yards. Between solar in the summer and windmills in the winter we might get some diversification of supply. I would like to see people be much more self-sustainable.
It sounds like you’re talking about the distributed energy grid. Letting people take electricity generation into their own hands, either through group projects, or individual ownership.
Can you tell us about the Net Metering system on your home.
I love it. I installed it in November, and in March we generated more electricity than we used. We heat with geothermal, so we have a larger electricity load than most, but we were still net positive for the first time. I was thrilled.
That’s so exciting. We can’t wait to see Net Metering opportunities take off. Hopefully there are opportunities for our co-op members to support and invest in this type of solar power, now that the FIT program has come to an end.
I think the opportunities for Net Metering are good. We still have to learn how to present it to people, to allow them to easily wrap their head around it, but then it will take off.
I also hope we can find some way of finding small Net Metering for groups of residential homes. If someone has a barn, he should be supplying the whole street. There’s the co-op mentality at work again!
If you were talking to a prospective member, what would you tell them?
My daughter and her boyfriend, and my friend Steve S. both expressed interest in solar installations. I let them know that it’s only $10 to join, why wouldn’t you join? And once you’re a member, you’re a part of something!
I think it offers a very good opportunity to invest, and we’re doing something good with our money. Why wouldn’t you? I don’t understand the downside. Where else can we do something good with our money, which helps the environment? And it’s simple.
It’s amazing how much more people can get done working together. Get people working as a team, and they can move mountains together.
Thank you to CED Co-op Member Paul West for sharing his take on the co-op mentality, and experience with solar energy.
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