Duncan Martin brings clean energy to communities.
Through worker ownership Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative (VREC) and its community-owned solar investment arm SolShare EnergyMartin and his colleagues provide solar panels at no upfront cost to a building owner.
Building owners purchase the power generated by the system directly from SolShare without having to raise the capital to purchase the solar panel. The community is then invited to invest in the renewable energy facility and earn dividends from the energy produced.
More solar power means less need for mega dam projects or burning dirty fossil fuels. Good jobs are created in VREC and community owned solar through SolShare. Everyone feels good about participating in the clean energy transition.
This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are tackling the climate crisis. These extraordinary human beings give me hope. I write these stories to return the favor.
Tell us about your projects
We’re a small team, so I’m involved in every stage of a project: meeting with building owners, advising on solar power system design and installation. When a larger array is retrofitted to SolShare Energy, community members who invest in ownership of the facility share in the initial capital cost. Occupants pay SolShare for the energy they use.
In Vancouver, residents of the Cedar Cottage cohousing project saved $200,000 with their 2015 solar panel installation and those living in the 102 condominiums in Mount Pleasant’s Parc Elise have saved money and avoided 29,000 tons of CO2 emissions since installation of 2018.
In both cases, investors have obtained dividends of the order of four percent each year. SolShare’s most recent partnership is with Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards. This 108 bifacial/50 kW array is anticipated to generate 60,000 kWh per year with no required capital cost from the warehouse/building owner. This facility will provide enough power to power six homes, meaning the excess could be sold back to the grid, with FortisBC as your utility provider.
My parents were very involved in local efforts to make sure growth was planned correctly and didn’t mar the landscape, says Duncan Martin, adding that he inherited this sense of responsibility to the natural environment. #ClimateYouthAction
Importantly, Tantalus and community investors know they are helping to prevent 5,800 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
How did you get to this job?
My university degree is in English literature and I spent some time teaching. But I was interested in design and sustainable farming, so I started designing backyard chicken coops on a whim. Through this, I met the owner and founder of VREC Solar and he was a good fit with my values, so I jumped on board. I’ve been here eight years.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in rural Vermont. My parents were very involved in local efforts to make sure the growth was planned correctly and didn’t mar the landscape. I inherited this sense of responsibility towards the natural environment. In my early 20s, I became frustrated with the effects of the extractive economy. High school classmates were fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and environmental standards at home were being reversed to satisfy corporate campaign donors. Not yet knowing what career path he would choose, he knew he needed to push back a model that only takes.
What makes your job hard?
It is a very physical job. I spend a lot of time climbing on roofs and hanging from a harness in all kinds of weather trying not to drop things or hurt myself. I’m not complaining, but the work is demanding.
Our industry has been stunted by government subsidies for fossil fuels and the protection of traditional energy providers. For example, there are few dedicated general training programs in BC for solar panel installers. As a result, the demand for skilled labor far exceeds the supply. We hope to recruit more members, but often we still have to keep customers waiting.
What do you do in your free time?
I love gardening and my wife and I enjoy making music with friends and family. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking online for rental housing. We would like to have a family, but the price of housing and life in Vancouver is worrying.
What gives you hope?
When it comes to energy, things are changing rapidly. Solar net metering programs and federal solar subsidies make a big difference in demand. Every year, there are more people who want to work in this industry.
Elsewhere, I find hope in grassroots groups making a difference, like Amazon workers unionizing and the Vancouver Tenants Union advocating for tenants. Bernie Sanders was the mayor of my hometown and is now a household name with his message inspiring millions to use their collective power for change.
Do you have any advice for other young people?
If you are passionate about something, try it. The future is going to be very different and your idea could be part of the solution. Talk to strangers about climate change. That’s one way to keep each other company during this transition.
What about older readers?
Introduce yourself and understand that the younger generations are inheriting a world very different from the one you have experienced. Surviving and mitigating climate change will require radical changes in the way we live and young people need you on board for this.