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IRP Recipient Update: Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley

[box] The Investment Readiness Program was created by the Government of Canada. As the Government of Canada explains: “The Investment Readiness Program (IRP) is a 2-year $50 million pilot program designed to help advance Social Innovation and Social Finance (SI/SF) in Canada by building on existing supports to help catalyze community-led solutions to persistent social and environmental challenges. The pilot will provide a learning opportunity to inform future direction on how best to support and mobilize the social finance sector.” Learn more here.

This blog series by the Trico Charitable Foundation showcases updates by successful IRP grant recipients who reside in Alberta. The goal of this series is to help inspire, inform, and nurture the ability of social entrepreneurship to close the gaps in Canadian society. [/box]


Recently, we had a chance to catch up with Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley since our IRP spotlight blog in 2020: They offer award-winning education and community engagement programs addressing the two major challenges in the Bow Valley: human-wildlife coexistence and climate change. They also serve as a citizens’ community hub. Through the first round of IRP funding, Biosphere looked at undertaking business and financial planning for a new social enterprise they helped to create, called Bow Valley Green Energy (BVGEC), to prepare it to accept investments in community-owned and-managed renewable energy projects. BVGEC’s ultimate vision is to make renewable energy affordable and accessible.

BVGEC has officially “flown the nest!” Andrea Johancsik, Climate Engagement Lead of Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley explains:

“In January 2021, bylaws were approved, and BVGEC officially became incorporated as an Opportunity Development Cooperative. By September 2021, BVGEC’s inaugural community-funded renewable energy generation system was installed at Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in Canmore! The project, now celebrating its first year of operation, is the first community-owned solar installation in Alberta. The 11.25 kW system offsets an estimated 7.4 tonnes of CO2e per year. With their second project currently under construction and two more projects in the development phase, BVGEC has really grown since its humble beginnings.”

BVGEC has also raised $150K from community investment to fund their first and second community energy installations and has grown its membership to 75, with 35 volunteers working towards furthering its goals.

The main challenge facing BVGEC today is financing their projects so they can continue installing renewable energy systems and broaden their investment offering to everyone, not just accredited investors. Andrea says:

“Despite the IRP project supporting the development of the legal paperwork required for the share offerings, as a relatively new organization on the block our offerings remain a hard sell. Since BVGEC remains a fully volunteer-run organization, they also are somewhat limited in capacity to deliver all of what they wish to accomplish.”

BVGEC has had some specific and technical learnings during the operation of their first project, such as the need for prompt maintenance as they experienced a panel failure earlier in the year. They have also learned more broadly about the power of effective marketing in building broad awareness and how to engage volunteers.

BVGEC has developed a business opportunity to become an Energy Marketer under the name Rocky Mountain Community Energy (RMCE), in partnership with Utility Net, an energy and internet supplier. Andrea says:

“Bow Valley Green Energy can now offer a fully integrated energy supply service for local residents, businesses, and their Host Sites. Rocky Mountain Community Energy has committed to return all profits from the sale of energy contracts into financing more local renewable energy projects. We look to expand this offering in the coming year.”

BVGEC will be launching their offering memorandum later this year which will open their investment offerings to a wider audience.

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