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Consumer (Co-)Ownership in Renewables in Ontario (Canada)


Community ownership in renewable energy (RE) is currently not an issue on the political agenda in most of the country, with the exception of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with its COMFIT Program. While Ontario had generated the most community-owned RE across the country, the political agenda in the province has shifted away from community ownership and RE towards consumer choice and price fairness. The dominant majority of community energy activity in Canada has taken place in the only two provinces that enacted feed-in tariff policies with community energy-specific components or “set-asides”: Ontario and Nova Scotia. Consumer (co-)ownership has consequently been marginalized in policy and practice from the outset, and renewable energy followed by “choice” and “price fairness” has dominated the dis-course and government action. The concept most commonly used in Canada for referring to consumer (co-)ownership of RE is “community energy” (CE). The acceptance of this concept can be linked to the term “community” being widely used to frame broader social economy practice in Canada. Within Canada’s CE field, there are five ownership models that are most commonly applied to develop projects: (i) cooperatives; (ii) Aboriginal ownership; (iii) community investment funds; (iv) non-profit organizations; and (v) municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals (MUSH sector). While cooperatives are involved in numerous energy-related activities in all jurisdictions of Canada, over 70 per cent of them are RE co-operatives whose primary business activity is electricity generation. Community Investment Funds, or CIFs, are locally sourced and controlled pools of capital contributed to by individual investors within a specific geography or community.

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  1. 1.

    Canada lacks a set of strong national energy policies and is instead characterized by a fractured and provincialized energy market. The fracturing of the Canadian energy market has its foundation in the Constitution Act of 1867, which institutionalized a clear division of powers between provincial and federal governments. As a result of this political reality and the geographical distances involved, in the first half of the twentieth century, each province incorporated their own utility companies and subsequently began building their provincial grids and large-scale production facilities depending on most readily available and economically viable resources. This initial fracture expanded in magnitude over the years and today the Canadian electricity landscape is often marked by inter-provincial competition and a variety of policy frameworks—or lack thereof—and practices. As such, one cannot talk about Canadian RE, but rather a patchwork of policies and practices that form an emergent and increasingly dynamic ecosystem within Canada. A province-by-province breakdown of RE and CE legislation and activity across Canada has been conducted as part of our research partnership. While the statistics are available at, an in-depth analysis of each province is featured in another book chapter by McMurtry (2017).

  2. 2.

    Aboriginal communities across the country are investing in RE projects to generate additional income for their communities, spur job training, and overcome over-reliance on diesel generators and energy poverty. While British Columbia and Alberta are witnessing increasing interest and activity from Aboriginal communities, the majority of installed and in-development capacity can again be found in Ontario, followed by Nova Scotia, the only two provinces that enacted FIT programmes.

  3. 3.

    New Brunswick invited community and Indigenous groups to apply for its Locally-Owned Renewable Energy Projects that are of Small Scale (LORESS) Program in February 2017, but no further information has been released by the provincial government as of February 2018.

  4. 4.

    Launched in September 2011 and terminated in August 2015, the COMFIT Program awarded a total of 200 MW of FIT contracts to wind, tidal, run-of-the-river hydroelectricity, and biomass projects that are at least 51 per cent owned by community groups (Nova Scotia Department of Energy 2017). The COMFIT Program, which excluded solar projects, is now supplemented by the Solar Electricity for Community Buildings Pilot Program, which enables Indigenous communities, non-profit organizations, municipalities and higher education institutions to install solar systems of up to 50 kW on the roofs or properties and sell it to their utility under a 20-year contract (Government of Nova Scotia 2017).

  5. 5.

    New Brunswick is in the process of rolling out the Locally-Owned Renewable Energy Projects that are Small Scale (LORESS) Program with 40 MW capacity for Indigenous projects and 40 MW for community proponents, that is, cooperatives, non-profits, community investment funds, MUSH sector, and partnerships with private organizations that are majority owned by community groups. No contracts have been awarded as of August 2017 (Government of New Brunswick 2017).

  6. 6.

    A list of these programmes can be found on PPP’s website at

  7. 7.

    In Canada, non-profit entities, charities, and other forms of social enterprises are becoming increasingly involved with renewable energy generation. Legal structures of these non-profit entities generating RE show a great deal of diversity across the country, which include but are not limited to (1) housing associations and cooperatives, (2) faith-based organizations, (3) cultural associations, (4) professional societies, and (5) foundations and charities.

  8. 8.

    Including but not limited to electricity distribution, district heating, renewable fuels, and installation and service.

  9. 9.

    On assignment to Cooperatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC), TREC Renewable Energy Coop and the People, Power, Planet Partnership undertook an assessment of the status of RE cooperatives across Canada in early 2016 (Lipp et al. 2016). This report provides a more detailed account of the current trends, challenges and best practices pertaining to RE cooperatives in Canada, and concludes with policy recommendations for both federal and provincial governments.

  10. 10.

    The involvement of CIFs in RE investments is also most prevalent in Nova Scotia. Besides having the most established CIF Program in Canada, Nova Scotia was also home to the Community Feed-in Tariff (COMFIT) Program (see Sect. 22.2.1). The COMFIT Program awarded contracts to 10 CEDIFs for a total generation capacity of 115 MW (Nova Scotia Department of Energy 2017).

  11. 11.

    The CEPP and AEPP were later joined together under the name of Energy Partnerships Program (EPP). EPP as of early 2018 continues to provide due diligence and project development support to Indigenous and other community groups awarded FIT contracts but do not yet have operational projects (IESO 2018a).

  12. 12.

    The CAD 650 million. Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program provides a Provincial guarantee for a loan to an Indigenous corporation to purchase up to 75 per cent of an Indigenous corporation’s equity in an eligible project, to a maximum of CAD 50 million. The Program is available to corporations that are wholly-owned by Indigenous communities. (Ontario Financing Authority 2018).

  13. 13.

    Many CE groups applied but did not receive a FIT contract, largely since their applications were submitted more than seven months into the Program, at which point most of the available contracts were awarded to corporate projects that had immediate access to human and financial resources to submit their applications expediently (Lipp et al. 2016, p. 16).

  14. 14.

    With the third tranche, the province cancelled FITs for projects over 500 kW (both community and corporate-owned) and moved them to a competitive bidding process (MacArthur 2016, p. 110).

  15. 15.

    For instance, Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota canalized its post-pipeline resistance efforts towards a wind energy project 100 per cent owned by their community (Democracy Now 2017).


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Correspondence to J. J. McMurtry .

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McMurtry, J.J., Tarhan, M.D. (2019). Consumer (Co-)Ownership in Renewables in Ontario (Canada). In: Lowitzsch, J. (eds) Energy Transition. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-93517-1

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