Duncan Martin brings clean power to communities.

Through the worker-owned Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative (VREC) and its community-owned solar investment arm SolShare Energy, Martin and his colleagues provide solar arrays at no upfront cost to a building owner.

Building owners buy the energy generated by the system directly from SolShare without having to raise the capital to buy the solar array. The community is then invited to invest in the renewable energy installation and get dividend returns from the energy produced.

More solar means less need for mega-dam projects or burning dirty fossil fuels. Good jobs get created at VREC and community-owned solar through SolShare. Everyone feels good about participating in the transition to clean energy.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

The SolShare and Tantalus team — sales manager Maya Boyd, GM David Paterson, viticulturist Felix Egerer and VREC solar installers Paul Ingram and Duncan Martin. Photo by Stephanie Mosley

Tell us about your projects

We are a small team, so I am involved at every stage of a project — meeting with building owners, advising on the design of solar energy systems and installation. When a larger array is suited to SolShare Energy, the upfront capital cost is shared by community members who invest in ownership of the installation. The occupants pay SolShare for the energy they use.

In Vancouver, residents of the Cedar Cottage co-housing project saved $200,000 with their 2015 solar panel installation and those living in the 102 condos at Mount Pleasant’s Parc Elise have saved money while preventing 29 thousand tonnes of CO2 from being emitted since their 2018 installation.

In both cases, investors have earned in the range of four per cent in dividends each year. SolShare’s newest partnership is with Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards. This 108-bifacial panel/50 kW array is anticipated to generate 60,000 kWh a year with no required capital cost from the winery/building owner. This installation will provide sufficient energy to power six homes, meaning the excess might be sold back to the grid, with FortisBC as its utility provider.

My parents were very involved in local efforts to see that growth was planned properly and didn’t spoil the landscape, says Duncan Martin, adding he inherited this sense of responsibility to the natural environment. #YouthClimateAction

Importantly Tantalus, and the community investors know they are helping prevent 5,800 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

Duncan Martin has a degree in English literature and I spent some time teaching, but an interest in design and sustainable farming led him to solar. Photo courtesy Duncan Martin

How did you get into this work?

My university degree is in English literature and I spent some time teaching. But I had an interest in design and sustainable farming, so I began designing backyard chicken coops on a whim. Through this, I met the owner and founder of VREC Solar and it was a good fit for 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 see that growth was planned properly and didn’t spoil the landscape. I inherited this sense of responsibility to 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 rolled back to satisfy corporate campaign donors. Without yet knowing what career I would choose, I knew I needed to push back against a model that only takes.

What makes your work hard?

It is very physical work. I spend a lot of time clambering over roofs and hanging in a harness in all sorts of weather trying not to drop things or get hurt. I am not complaining, but the job is demanding.

Our industry has been stunted by government subsidies to fossil fuels and the protection of traditional energy suppliers. For example, there are few dedicated mainstream training programs in B.C. for solar panel installers. As a result, the demand for skilled labour far outstrips the supply. We hope to hire more members, but we still often have to keep customers waiting.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love gardening and my wife and I enjoy making music with friends and family. Lately, I have spent a lot of time scrolling online ads for rental housing. We would like to have a family but the price of housing and living in Vancouver is concerning.

SolShare’s newest partnership is with Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards. This 108-bifacial panel/50 kW array is anticipated to generate 60,000 kWh a year with no required capital cost from the winery/building owner. Photo by Shawn Talbot

What gives you hope?

Regarding energy, things are changing fast. Net-metering programs for solar and the federal solar energy subsidies make a big difference to demand. Each year, there are more people who want to work in this industry.

Elsewhere, I find hope in grassroots groups making a difference, like the Amazon workers unionizing and the Vancouver Tenants Union advocating for renters. Bernie Sanders was the mayor of my hometown and he 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 feel passionate about something, try it. The future is going to be so different and your idea might be part of the solution. Talk to strangers about climate change. That is one way to keep each other company through this transition.

What about older readers?

Show up and understand younger generations are inheriting a very different world than you have experienced. Surviving and mitigating climate change will require radical changes to how we live and young people need you onboard for this.

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