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Two Emerging Models of Consumer Owned Utilities

| Friday September 23rd, 2011 | 1 Comment


For all the talk of emerging renewable energy technology, there has thus far been precious little movement in most of the world in terms of people getting their power directly from renewable energy sources. Options like PGE’s Green Source, and Bullfrog Power are good, but they are both indirect routes to greater renewable energy inclusion. Energy use, still based largely on legacy fossil fuel options, is offset by renewable energy projects elsewhere. And they each add cost to your existing energy bill, which to many who are not so green committed is a deal breaker.

Two options have recently emerged that, pardon the pun, put much more power in people’s hands, while keeping costs in line: Spark Your Power and Wind Centrale.

Spark Your Power is “Alberta’s first Member-Owned Power Retail Co-Operative, focusing on green energy.” What does this mean? In this case, you share in the ownership of the company. Seventy percent of yearly profits are reinvested in renewable energy projects and members have a say in where that money is directed. Of the remaining profits, a portion is returned to members. Finally, members have the option to be a part of the Board and Management Team. In a decidedly Canadian touch, “…each member has a vote equal to every other member, independent of electrical consumption or investment in the business.”

But I had to wonder, as a retailer rather then actual provider of electricity, what sort of renewable energy projects would Spark Your Power be investing in? Its own generation sources, or supporting ones by the actual energy providers and wire owners? In other words, how much actual difference would these projects make on the energy supply mix? According to co-founder Paul Cabaj, there are a dozen ideas currently on the table and, “They range from energy retrofit programs to micro-renewable generation coops. The first investments will likely take place this time next year.”

Spark Your Power offers both a fixed and floating price option. While it is too soon to tell whether member costs will be on par with conventional residential energy options, it is likely that they will be close.

Dutch company Wind Centrale takes the owner model one step further. Members own the actual power source itself, in this case a wind turbine. Similar to a Kickstarter project, this wind turbine will go live as a project if and when 3000 people have committed to invest in it. Dividing the output of the turbine into units of 500kWh annually, people can purchase enough to meet their yearly energy needs, typically 3500kWh.

What is clear is that the wall between utility and customer is beginning to crumble, and the results will be interesting to watch.

We’re still a long way from a mix of renewable energy sources supplying the entirety of our energy needs, 24/7, outside sourcing it ourselves off the grid. However, Spark Your Power and Wind Centrale give consumers an active role in shaping where and how they obtain their energy, with minimal effort. When coupled with a competitive price and the ability to profit from rather than just pay for electricity, these are two companies to keep a close eye on.

Readers: Are you a part of either of these initiatives, or one like them? What’s been your experience so far? What other angles do you see as an effective route to greater renewable energy inclusion in the utility mix?


Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Image Credit: rocknroll_guitar via Flickr Creative Commons

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jay-Ragusa/500950187 Jay Ragusa

    I am part of a company in the USA with a unique model for everyday energy users to profit from the move toward sustained sources like Wind.
    Check out our site http://www.goferenergy.com and the no cost business opportunity http://www.goferthemovement.com