Local Buy-In Accelerates Green Infrastructure

Canada leads the way... |

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Local Buy-In Accelerates Green Infrastructure
By Justin Worland
Senior Correspondent

For anyone watching closely, so-called community engagement has become a key point in the energy transition. Weaning the world off fossil fuels will require building a lot of infrastructure, which inevitably will be located in people’s backyards.

Around the world, and in the U.S. specifically, project developers and community leaders alike are grasping for a better way forward. Community opposition was a component of some 30% of failed renewable energy projects in the U.S., according to a study in the journal Energy Policy.

Last fall, I attended a convening on community engagement organized by the Aspen Institute and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and was drawn by the discussion of the idea that one way to help communities and advance projects at the same time might be to give an ownership stake to local stakeholders. Community members would gain a new revenue stream—one more secure than elusive jobs that often fail to materialize in energy projects. And developers would gain a partner that wants to help the project advance.

Since then, my exploration of ownership stakes has taken me in several different directions. I’ve learned about how some private equity firms have begun giving equity to a wide share of employees to improve results. And I’ve explored various efforts to share energy wealth with local communities.

This week, I wrote about one of the most interesting ownership-stakes initiatives: a push to give indigenous communities in Canada a stake in major projects. You can read the full story here . In short, for the last 15 years, a range of programs have developed to give indigenous communities—known in Canada as First Nations—access to low-cost capital to buy ownership stakes in major projects.

In April, I traveled to Toronto to see the approach firsthand. Over the course of two days a group of indigenous leaders, government officials, and financiers touted the result of the collaborations: newfound momentum for the energy transition in Canada and significant progress in the country’s indigenous reconciliation agenda. “This is an approach that is going to, first and foremost, advance indigenous economic prosperity,” Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s finance minister, told the crowd at the conference. “It's going to advance prosperity for all of Canada and all Canadians.”

The effort is Canadian, but it should spark thinking in the U.S. and beyond about creative ways to accelerate the transition.



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