Renewable energy group bids to turn Melbourne’s trams solar

Melbourne’s entire tram network could be powered by solar if the state government gave a bold renewable energy proposal the green light.

While the pitch may conjure up images of trams with rooftop panels on them like the family home, the power would instead be generated at two new solar farms the project proponents plan to build near Swan Hill and Mildura.

The company behind the bid, the Australian Solar Group, have held quiet talks over four years with different arms of the government to try get the project off the ground, but has so far not got final backing.

The two solar farms would generate 80 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, about the same amount used by Melbourne’s tram network, which is the world’s largest.
Under the proposal the government would back the project by signing Public Transport Victoria (PTV) up to a power purchase agreement with the solar farms, creating a reliable revenue source alongside the renewable energy target.

The proponents say the project has been designed to ensure the cost of tram tickets would not rise, nor would it add to PTV’s power bill. It would cut 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year from running trams and give the city an obvious global selling point (see the mock-up tram design above), according to the pitch.


The Australia Solar Group was founded by businessmen Adrian Critchlow and Dave Holland. Mr Crtichlow previously helped start companies and AlertMe,before successful sales of both. Mr Holland was formerly the head of Solar Systems, a company that was building a large solar project in Mildura before financial collapse in 2009.

Mr Holland said Australia Solar had tried to get almost all elements of the tram project ready to go before it sought final financial backing.

“This project is virtually ready to go. We can’t see any barriers that would stop it from here,” he said.

The tram project has been supported behind the scenes by members of the Melbourne City Council, including Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. Councillor Arron Wood said it ticked many boxes, from contributing significantly towards the city’s renewable energy target to creating employment and training opportunities in rural Victoria.

“Ultimately, whether this project proceeds rests firmly with the Victorian Government. I just hope they take the action necessary to get it done,” Cr Wood said.

A spokeswoman for the Andrews government said: “We are interested in how the project progresses and will continue discussions with the group.”


Australian Solar says the solar farms would span across 80 hectares and use 130,000 panels to track the sun throughout the day. It has planning and grid connection approvals for its Swan Hill site, with permit processes underway for the second site at Red Cliffs.

The solar power generated would be fed into the electricity grid, offsetting the power PTV currently demands from elsewhere to run the trams.

The company says approximately $3 million has been spent on the project to date, with $70 million needed to build the solar farms.

To underpin this the company says it needs the power purchase agreement with PTV, who ultimately pays Yarra Trams’ electricity bills.

It is seeking a 20-year power agreement, which is longer than Yarra Trams’ current short-term deals. The company says it has negotiated pricing with PTV, but there is no final agreement.

In October former Transport Minister Terry Mulder sent a letter to the city council saying PTV was interested in the project which fitted well with its environmental goals. But that had to be “measured against the availability of brown coal and natural gas that for many years have given Victoria a relatively cheap source of energy,” he wrote.

He added there were also significant commercial risk analysis requirements associated with such a project, requiring longer timelines.


Transport is responsible for 17 per cent of Australia’s total emissions, but this only accounts for vehicles with combustion engines such as the average family car.

Electrified transport, such as trains and trams, is more efficient but still helps generate emissions by demanding power from Australia’s coal-dominated electricity-grid.

Last year The Age reported that Metro Trains was Victoria’s second largest emitter through energy use.

The City of Melbourne has reported trams account for 10 per cent of city transport emissions with energy use factored in.


Lasting relationships come down To 2 basic traits : kindness and generosity

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

John Wolseley: Heartlands and Headwaters ABC RN

John Wolseley’s wonderful exhibition is on at the NGV Melbourne until 16 August.

Mother’s Day original meaning

“The women who originally celebrated Mother’s Day conceived of it as an occasion to use their status as mothers to protest injustice and war. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Work Days in West Appalachian communities to protest the lack of sanitation that caused disease-bearing insects and polluted water to sicken or even kill poor workers.
In 1870, after witnessing the bloody Civil War, Julia Ward Howe—a Boston pacifist, poet, and suffragist who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”—proclaimed a special day for mothers to oppose war. Committed to ending all armed conflict, Howe wrote, “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage. … Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”
For the next three decades, Americans celebrated Mother’s Days for Peace on June 2. Women political activists of this era fought to end lynching and organized to end child labor, trafficking of women, and consumer fraud. In their view, their moral superiority was grounded in the fact of their motherhood.
When Anna Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter, also named Anna, vowed to honor her mother’s political activism by creating a national Mother’s Day.”…/xx…/2009/05/soap_to_ploughshares.html

The Degrowth Paradigm audio 54 mins

The degrowth movement is a relatively new contender in the economic and political debates that swirl around humanity’s future. Degrowthers believe we need a more modest and sane alternative to the constant pressures of expansion that are destroying the ecological basis of our existence. Author and essayist Richard Swift explores the degrowth alternative, in theory and in practice.
Participants in the program:

Jim Merkel
, author of Radical Simplicity, Small Footprints on a Finite Earth, published in 2003. He now lives in a yurt near Belfast, Maine, and is building his own home from local materials.

Bob Thomson is an Ottawa degrowth advocate, who helped organize the international degrowth conference in Montreal, in 2012. He has a background in engineering, and has been involved in international development, fair trade, and environmental issues for 45 years. He also volunteers at Can Decreix in southern France.

Joan Martinez Alier, one of the founders of modern ecological economics. He teaches ecological economics at the Autonomous University in Barcelona. He provides the intellectual underpinnings for Europe’s nascent degrowth movement.

Éric Pineault teaches sociology and economic sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal, UQAM. He spoke at the degrowth conference in Montreal in 2012.

François Schneider, from France, organized the first Degrowth conference in Paris in 2008. He founded Can Decreix, in the south of France

Filka Sekulova, from Bulgaria, is a veteran environmental activist and an advocate of degrowth. She has been associated with Can Decreix since the beginning.

Federico Demaria is an economist from Italy. He is one of the founders of the Barcelona based group, Research and Degrowth.

Carolina Zerpa, from Venezuela, works at the Integrated Catalan Cooperative, in Barcelona. The Cooperative was started as a degrowth initiative.

Tatiana is from Argentina and works and lives at the eco-industrial project called Calafou, a couple of hours west of Barcelona. It is a member project of the Integrated Catalan Cooperative.

CalWater0 R.I.P. California (1850-2016): What We’ll Lose And Learn From The World’s First Major Water Collapse

Significant. Please support locally grown organic food.

Last week when NASA announced that California is on its death bed and has only 12 months of water left, the news hit like a punch to the gut. “Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir,” writes Jay Famiglietti of NASA.

Famiglietti adds: “Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.”

Tensions are high in the state, and small conflicts are breaking out as people are beginning to steal water from others. Caroline Stanley of Refinery 29 writes: “As Tom McKay points out, the water crisis will likely have the biggest impact on the state’s agricultural community — which currently accounts for a whopping 80% of its water usage. (According to Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network, the almond crop alone uses enough water to supply 75 percent of the state’s population.) But, recently, your average citizens are feeling it, too. People in the Bay Area are actually stealing water from their neighbors.”

So what will happen when California turns into a dust bowl? Will the beauty and rich fabric of California’s cultural historyevaporate as well? SF Weekly put together a list of the top 51 reasons why California is America’s greatest state, and you can read them HEREBuzzFeed also points out the 32 reasons why California is the most beautiful place in the world and you can read them at as well. And what about the amazing culture of spirituality, peace, tolerance, ingenuity, and love that permeates the Golden State — would we lose that too?

From another perspective, the North American food supply will also suffer a devastating blow because the state’s agricultural production zone is smack dab in the middle of the drought’s most severely hit area. And not only will California’s farming industry come to a screeching halt — the little water that is left will be so filled with toxins and pollutants that it will be undrinkable for local residents. Mother Jones put together an eye-opening set of infographics which paint a disturbing picture, and you can study them below.

Mother Jones also points out that the lifeblood groundwater Californians are surviving on is 20,000 years old. Tom Knudson writes: “Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia. Tapping such water is more than a scientific curiosity. It is one more sign that some parts of California are living beyond nature’s means, with implications that could ripple into the next century and beyond as climate change turns the region warmer and robs moisture from the sky. ‘What I see going on is a future disaster. You are removing water that’s been there a long, long time. And it will probably take a long time to replace it. We are mining water that cannot be readily replaced,’ said Vance Kennedy, a 91-year-old retired research hydrologist in the Central Valley.”

The California water crisis is reminiscent of The Dust Bowl, also known as the Dirty Thirties — “a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the US and Canadian prairies during the 1930s” (Wikipedia). “Severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent wind erosion (the Aeolian processes) caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–40, but some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the plains, farmers had conducted extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the combine harvester contributed to farmers’ decisions to convert arid grassland (much of which received no more than 10 inches (250 mm) of precipitation per year) to cultivated cropland.”

The Dust Bowl resulted in a mass evacuation of the heartland, as tens of thousands of people were forced to abandon their farms. A similar evacuation is already underway in California as many farmers have been forced to give up. Unlike the Dust Bowl, however, California’s crisis doesn’t end with abandoned farms — it ends with abandoned cities.

With This Greenhouse It Is Now Possible To Grow Crops In The Desert

A non-profit organization called “Roots Up” has designed a greenhouse that collects moisture from the air, which then is used to water the plants.


This new design can help farmers in areas where the lack of proper temperature and rainfall make it difficult to grow crops.

As the designers of the greenhouse explain on their website:

The greenhouse traps hot air and humidity during the heat of the day, creating a better atmosphere for plant growth and then at night, a rope can be pulled that opens up a latch at the top of the greenhouse that lets cool air in, eventually reaching the dew point and creating condensation. The water droplets are channeled into a collection cistern and can be used for drinking water or for irrigation. In times of rain, the design can also be used as a rainwater collector.

Roots Up plans to launch the project in areas of Ethiopia, where droughts are common and farming is difficult.

Read More:

Australia’s biggest national park to be created in WA’s Kimberley as mining companies relinquish tenement

A five million hectare slice of Western Australia’s Kimberley region will become the country’s largest national park after the State Government struck a deal forever banning mining in the iconic Mitchell Plateau.

After extensive negotiations, a 45-year state agreement that gave Rio Tinto rights to mine bauxite and Alcoa the right to refine aluminium on the Mitchell Plateau has been cancelled. No further mining or exploration will be permitted in the 175,000 hectare area, which will be included in the new five million hectare Kimberley National Park which includes a network of land and marine parks. Premier Colin Barnett said thanks to the agreement, the “extraordinary” landscape would be preserved, delivering a major conservation outcome. “I genuinely believe that this is the most significant conservation achievement in Western Australian history,” Mr Barnett said. Legislation will be introduced into Parliament this week to cancel the state agreement. Mr Barnett expected it would have bipartisan support. The park will incorporate two million hectares of land in the Kimberley, taking in the current Prince Regent, Mitchell River and Lawley River national parks.

Park ‘must be seen to be understood’

Termination of the state agreement with Rio Tinto and Alcoa allows the Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls to form the centrepiece of the new park. Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh said seeing the area firsthand convinced him it should never be mined. “As I toured around, I was visiting as a tourist, not as an employee of Rio Tinto, and I met people and I said ‘do you think this is going to be developed’,” he said. “People said this will never be developed and quite frankly I believed them. You could not mine this area without impacting on the environmental and heritage aspects. Rio Tinto’s Sam Walsh “To fully understand you need to go there and you need to physically see it. “It is iconic. There’s no question in my mind that this is an iconic area that needs to be preserved for future generations.” Mr Walsh said even if aluminium refining had been viable, the company would not have mined the bauxite in the region because of the inevitable impact on the environment. “Bauxite mining is on a very, very broad base,” he said. “Generally, bauxite deposits are 15 metres deep but across a wide expanse. “You could not mine this area without impacting on the environmental and heritage aspects.” In negotiations with the Government, Rio Tinto secured an agreement to ensure that if it relinquished its rights, the agreement would be terminated for all mining. The company will contribute $750,000 to rehabilitation work in areas where some drilling was conducted. Mr Barnett said the company’s decision to relinquish mining rights was a great contribution to preserving the Kimberley. “That was an extraordinarily generous act by Rio Tinto, putting the interests of conservation ahead of their interest of ownership in that mineral deposit,” he said. Mr Barnett said he expected the complex work of establishing the park’s boundaries would begin soon, but he had not set a deadline for when the park will be formally in place. By Andrew O’Connor

Neighbors Got Together to Buy Vacant Buildings. Now They’re Renting to Bakers and Brewers

The intersection of Central and Lowry Avenues in northeast Minneapolis is bustling. On the northwest corner is a trifecta of local businesses: A bike shop, a cooperative brewery, and a bakery, in buildings with eye-catching exteriors of rough-hewn wood and silvery porcelain bricks. The neighborhood grocery co-op is one block up the street.
“Is there a way to create a cooperative that would be in the business of creating more cooperatives?”This commercial stretch didn’t always look like this. In 2011, where these three businesses sit, there were two vacant buildings. The empty space was not uncommon along Central Avenue, a long corridor that was created to be the Main Street of the neighborhood, but that had suffered from decades of disinvestment. While a few businesses dotted the avenue, many other storefronts were neglected.

“A lot of people looked at it as too big to tackle,” explains Leslie Watson, who lives nearby.

In 2011, a group of dedicated neighbors came together to change that. In November of that year, five of them, including Watson, became the founding board of the Northeast Investment Cooperative, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S. cooperative engaged in buying and developing real estate. NEIC created a structure where any Minnesota resident could join the co-op for $1,000, and invest more through the purchase of different classes of nonvoting stock. The group began spreading the word to prospective members, and started looking for a building to buy.

One year later, NEIC had enough members to buy the two buildings on Central Avenue for cash. The co-op quickly sold one of the buildings to project partner Recovery Bike Shop, and after a gut renovation, which it funded with a 2 percent loan from the city and a loan from local Northeast Bank, it leased the other building to two young businesses that had struggled to find workable space elsewhere, Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s BreadHaus. Today, NEIC’s impact spreads beyond the intersection of Central and Lowry. It’s catalyzed the creation of new jobs, engaged its more than 200 members in reimagining their neighborhood, and given residents a way to put their capital to work in their local economy.

“Collectively, that wealth will stay in our community,” says Watson. “If you want to take the long view, that’s the goal.”

While NEIC is unique in the U.S., similar investment cooperatives are sprouting up in Canada, where they’re aided by programs designed to help them grow, as well as favorable policies. Though the model is new, and small, it holds outsize potential for the many communities struggling with northeast Minneapolis’s familiar set of problems, from business districts languishing half-vacant, to essential commercial spaces being controlled by faraway landlords or big retail chains with no regard for neighborhood needs. In the vacuum left by both traditional economic development and Wall Street’s approach to finance, community real estate investment cooperatives offer a glimpse of a better way to channel capital, with benefits that include new jobs in the neighborhood, strong incentives for people to shop locally, local sources for key goods, closer ties with neighbors, and a return on investment.

And it represents a way for these communities to do it themselves.

A view of northeast Minneapolis before Northeast Investment Cooperative was founded. Photo courtesy of the author.

“A cooperative to create more cooperatives”

Several years before northeast Minneapolis got together to form NEIC, a similar initiative was sprouting up more than 1,200 miles away, in the town of Sangudo.

In 2005, Sangudo found out that the school district was planning to close the local high school. The small hamlet in rural Alberta, Canada, had long been draining people and businesses—“for 30 or 40 years, it was dying a slow death,” says Dan Ohler—but the specter of losing a school launched the community into crisis. Ohler, who’s lived in Sangudo for about 20 years, got together with a handful of neighbors to begin looking at what they could do. Armed with a $50,000 grant from the Alberta Community and Cooperative Association, they began exploring different cooperative models, and soon realized that their vision was bigger than a single business.

“Collectively, that wealth will stay in our community.”

“Sangudo was short of just about every product and service that you can imagine,” recalls Jeff Senger, a resident of Sangudo, in a video. “So we started asking ourselves the question, is there a way to create a cooperative that would be in the business of creating more cooperatives?”

To answer that question, Sangudo had to draw up its own blueprints. Alberta is rich in cooperatives, and Sangudo had some nearby references, like a town that had recently gotten together to purchase its own grain elevator. But the thing that they had in mind was different.

“We saw that what we could do was be the financial arm, or financial support, in a way that the bank can’t,” explains Ohler.

In May 2010, 22 founding members incorporated the Sangudo Opportunity Development Cooperative, with a basic structure of the one-member-one-vote cooperative principle, a membership share costing up to $1,000, and the option of additional investment up to $10,000. With this model, SODC raised $220,000 in member capital in its first day. Today, the co-op has grown to 29 members.

For its first project, SODC looked to what its town already had. The owner of the meatpacker in town had been trying to sell and retire, but struggling to find a buyer. SODC stepped in to buy the building, and two SODC members with butchering knowledge took over the business. The next year, the cooperative purchased a second building for project two, and helped a new business, a coffee shop, start up there. For its third project, SODC raised capital to help Sangudo Custom Meat Packers match two government grants for an expansion. Today, the meat shop has purchased its building from the cooperative, grown from two employees under the previous owner to 14, and become an essential piece of the rural economy, processing animals from a wide surrounding area and selling the local meat to top restaurants in Edmonton. Now, four-and-a-half years after SODC incorporated, it’s purchased three lots to begin project four.

Support helps the model spread

While the SODC has been growing Sangudo, it’s also inspired a new initiative dedicated to starting similar cooperatives throughout Alberta. After giving Sangudo its $50,000 seed grant, the Alberta Community and Cooperative Association kept its eyes on the town as it formed the SODC. Two years later, struck by Sangudo’s new model, the ACCA decided to launch a program, “Unleashing Local Capital,” to help other communities do the same thing.

Using a $1.26 million grant from the Alberta government’s Rural Alberta Development Fund, and $440,000 in investment from other sources, the ACCA invested in legal and accounting guidance to draft professional templates for the model, developed a guide to train communities interested in starting investment cooperatives of their own, and then helped those communities launch pilot projects. “We realized that this was something pretty important for saving our rural communities,” says Ohler, who became the face of the program.

As it looked into ways to grow the model, the ACCA hit upon a way to channel Albertans’ savings into their local economy: It realized that investment cooperatives were eligible to be an investment option for Albertans with a self-directed retirement plan, and that the credit union Concentra Financial and the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation already had programs to help cooperatives access these plans. The ACCA now explicitly frames its Unleashing Local Capital program as a way to get Albertans’ investments in retirement plans out of the Toronto Stock Exchange and into their local community.

“We saw that what we could do was be the financial arm, or financial support, in a way that the bank can’t.”

“There’s plenty of money,” says Paul Cabaj, who runs the program, citing a figure that Albertans are on track to have $5 billion invested in registered retirement plans. “But none of it comes back.” Like in the United States, even though self-directed retirement plans are available, only a small portion of Albertans have historically used them. “Self-directed retirement plans have always been around, but the ones who have taken advantage of them, it’s been 3 to 5 percent of the population,” says Cabaj, and only the people who are already comfortable navigating the financial system. Part of Cabaj’s work now is raising awareness about the tool, for both the cooperatives and their members.

Today there are seven Opportunity Development Cooperatives in Alberta, and five more are in the process of incorporating. Crucially, 90 percent of the funds raised so far have been through investments from self-directed retirement plans, Cabaj says. The ODCs are engaged in a range of projects, from a bakery, to a mechanic, to senior housing. One group is talking about starting a medical clinic.

As the model moves through the province, it also chips away at one of the biggest barriers to having more investment cooperatives—it lets people know that this is possible.

“It’s like a barn-raising for the 21st century,” says Cabaj. “This is how communities used to perform, but now it’s like an atrophied muscle. It’s painful at first, but it will get easier.”

Grassroots approach has strengths and challenges

The Northeast Investment Cooperative and the Sangudo Opportunity Development Cooperative formed their models independent of the other, but the groups share a grassroots nature that has both aided their success and created its own hurdles. For both, a key strength has been the dual role that members play as not just investors but as customers, and a challenge has been the cooperatives’ reliance on the volunteer sweat of founding members.

For both investment cooperatives to get off the ground, the most essential resource wasn’t money. It was time.

Long before NEIC had purchased and rented out its buildings, it still had startup costs—the lawyer, the real estate broker, the architect—but the cooperative hadn’t been set up to pay for those things from the initial capital investment. In order to make it viable, the early members and the founding board pitched in their own skills for everything they could, from the website, to the project management, to the stacks of paperwork. NEIC also got creative—some of the contractors who rehabbed the buildings became members of the coop, and were paid in nonvoting stock. Watson estimates that in the startup phase, there was always someone putting in 15 or 20 hours of volunteer work every week.

“I don’t think we could have done it differently, because we needed to say to people, ‘We’re not going to waste your money,” says Watson. “But for project two, we need to construct it so that there’s enough income from property number one. We can’t fund it forever on free labor.”

Ohler echoes her. In Sangudo, it took a close-knit group of dedicated neighbors to make SODC happen, and Ohler says that the same mix has been essential in other Alberta communities that have created active ODCs of their own. “You need a small, core group willing to put in the time, energy, and trust to get this going,” he says.

The flip side of being grassroots, though, is the sheer number of people involved in the cooperative, and the symbiotic relationship that forms between being an investor and being a customer. When the cooperative invests in a business, that business also gets a built-in group of regulars.

In Sangudo, that relationship was reinforced by the terms of the leases that the cooperative arranged with the businesses renting from it. With the meatpacker, for instance, the two agreed on a low monthly rent—“low enough that they could make it even in slow times,” says Ohler—plus a percentage of gross sales. With this set up, “The more we could support them, the more they would make, the more they could pay back to SODC,” explains Ohler. In giving themselves a financial stake in the meatpacker’s success, the cooperative members also gave the meatpacker loyal customers and marketers.

In Minneapolis, the three businesses in the two buildings that were first purchased by NEIC have all become successful on their own, but they count their 200-some landlords among their loyal following. Watson was at one of the businesses, Aki’s BreadHaus, on opening day, and recalls that out of every 10 customers, eight were members of NEIC. “You run into very familiar faces,” she says. “Everybody just takes a lot of pride in what happened, and I know they go to the buildings in part because of that.”

Policy to help investment co-ops spread

While the investment cooperatives that have formed in northeast Minneapolis and in Sangudo have relied primarily on the resources of the communities starting them, both initiatives have also benefited from favorable state and provincial policies. Building on these policies, and expanding them to other states, could open the way for this model to scale up and spread.

“It’s like a barn-raising for the 21st century.”

One of these is a securities exemption for cooperatives. In the laws of both Minnesota and Alberta, there’s an exemption that allows cooperatives to raise capital directly from their members, above and beyond the purchase of membership shares, without having to go through the complex and prohibitively expensive process of registering a securities offering. In the United States, about half of states have laws allowing these exemptions for cooperatives that are raising money from members within the state, but the laws vary widely. Minnesota’s is among the most liberal, and is partly responsible for the state’s thriving cooperative sector, including the existence of the Northeast Investment Cooperative.

In Canada, the policy support goes even further. First, the ACCA provides essential technical assistance, and was able to build up its “Unleashing Local Capital” program through a government grant. Second, the country’s laws allow much broader access to self-directed retirement funds, both for investors to open that type of account and for them to then steer their savings toward local investment opportunities. Federal laws govern the retirement savings plans known as RRSPs, which are comparable to the U.S.’s IRAs, and they allow investors to hold within the RRSP several kinds of private capital investment, including funds for small business corporations, as long as the businesses are operating only in Canada.

In some Canadian provinces, notably Nova Scotia, the support goes even further through investment tax credits. Nova Scotia has created a program called the Community Economic Development Investment Funds, or CEDIF, that couples the self-directed RRSP option with a substantial tax credit of 35 percent for investment in local businesses, which is capped at $17,500 annually on a $50,000 investment. The program allows individuals to form pools of capital that they can then use to operate or invest in local for-profit businesses. Between 2000 and 2014, the program enabled Nova Scotians to invest $64 million in local businesses.

Though such a tax credit is generous, similar investment tax credits in fact already exist in several U.S. states. The difference is that those in the U.S. are designed mainly to benefit large companies in select sectors. Maine, for instance, grants a tax credit of 40 percent for wealthy accredited investors who put money into biotech and other advanced manufacturing businesses. It’s time that states reconfigure these credits to benefit middle- and low-income people and steer capital to growing locally owned businesses, particularly in economically marginalized communities.

To help the investment cooperative model spread, we need to do three pieces of the heavy lifting. First, more states should look at adopting securities exemptions for member investment in cooperatives, like Minnesota’s. Second, coop organizations can look to the role played by the ACCA in Alberta, and provide training and support for this particular kind of cooperative, such as a library of legal and tax templates that investment coops can use to help them avoid having to reinvent the wheel on their own. Third, policymakers and community leaders need to explore ways to steer more capital to these kinds of cooperatives. This could include making self-directed retirement plans more accessible, offering tax credits for local investments, and, in poor communities particularly, adding investment dollars from sources like public pension funds and community foundations.

Bottom lines

While Minneapolis and Sangudo think about how their model can grow, they’re seeing the cooperatives build wealth in their communities through both direct and indirect returns on investment.

From the beginning, NEIC and SODC have both carefully considered the balance between achieving their community aims, and offering investors a return on their capital. This question is motivated as much by their individual projects as it is by questions about how to scale up, and how to turn their model into one of the building blocks of a new economy.

“You have to offer a return to people,” says Watson. “If we’re going to say, ‘We’re building an alternative economy, and here’s a different way to invest your money—but by the way, you’d be better off leaving it in a savings account at 0.2 percent interest,’ then you’re not going to get enough capital.”

“This is a legacy, an investment for the next 20 years.”

As it focuses on expanding, NEIC has not yet paid a dividend, but it has structures in place to do so, as well as structures in place so that owners can capture a percentage of the properties’ appreciating value. For NEIC owners who have invested beyond their voting share, the coop aims to offer more, and to pay out those dividends first. “That’s a long-term strategy to make it a place not just for 600 people to come in at $1,000 each, but for people to do more,” says Watson. “We have to be able to prove that hypothesis before we can expect people to do it at scale.”

At the same time, NEIC is able to operate in a way that’s different from a corporation driven solely by profit, and that flexibility is a critical piece of what it brings to the neighborhood. When the cooperative’s board first looked at the buildings that they ended up buying, they ran some quick calculations to see what they’d be able to offer as a return. “The only thing that seemed to make it work was 2 percent, and our real estate broker just started laughing,” Watson remembers. “But we said, ‘Yeah, we’re OK with that.’”

In Sangudo, the SODC’s first two years brought with it strong returns; at the end of year one, Sangudo Custom Meat Packers generated a 6.3 percent return for the cooperative. Over the past two years, however, the co-op has restructured in order to become an option for self-directed retirement plans, and professional fees to lawyers and accountants have resulted in lower returns.

“That hurts, but we need to look at this in a much bigger way,” says Ohler. “It’s not an investment for the next year, or two years. This is a legacy, an investment for the next 20 years.”

That legacy is one aspect of the investment cooperatives’ indirect returns. In Sangudo, the meat shop has created a dozen new jobs, and the restaurant has hired at least five. The restaurant has become a hub of the community, where 40 people gather at breakfast time. The meatpacker serves farmers who come from miles around to process their livestock. While they’re in town, they pick up some stamps, or refill on gas.

In Minneapolis, many NEIC members are themselves business owners, and see NEIC as a force catalyzing a stronger commercial district that will also drive more business to them. The homeowners who are members know that the healthier the commercial corridor is, the more their homes are worth.

“I think when you work in social justice and economic justice, it’s not your first thought that you want to benefit the small business community, but actually the small business community is so important,” says Watson. “Any structure we can put in place that helps them be stronger and more resilient is good for all of us.”

Both cooperatives are looking ahead to what’s next in their communities. In Sangudo, SODC has purchased three plots of land for its next project, and is considering taking on new capacity to build affordable housing units on the property. In northeast Minneapolis, after a period to catch its breath, NEIC has hired a property manager, and is actively raising membership and capital so that it can buy another building and begin its next project.

Both also believe that the model they’ve created can populate out.

“Someday, 10 years from now, we want to have a convention of community investment cooperatives,” says Watson. “Right now, we’d be the only ones there.”

By Olivia LaVecchia /

Help Save McPherson St Neighbourhood Laneway Garden: 3 March Fitzroy Town Hall Yarra 7pm Council Meeting

Hello lovely folk

Thanks for offering to sign & circulate the petition below to help save McPherson St neighbourhood laneway garden This will be presented to councillors at next Tuesday nights (3rd March) Fitzroy Town Hall Yarra 7pm Council Meeting….(please join us there to show your support/have your say)

Check out the garden for yourself – beautifully laid out, inspiring, space-efficient shared section behind the houses backing onto the U-shaped lane on the north side of MacPherson St, Nth Carlton: btwn Rathdowne & Drummond Streets.

Its a great example/precedent for Yarra Council to extend their excellent community-inspired Urban Agriculture Guidelines to include win/win guidelines specifically developed for laneway gardens so residents can continue to create welcoming shared growing spaces as our neighbourhoods become more densely populated…a perfect fit for Yarra’s Livewell Sustainability Project

AND it would be fab if you and your community-minded mates show up/have your say at the crucial deciding meeting:


TUESDAY 23rd March

Fitzroy Town Hall

Cnr Napier/Moor Streets


Thanks for all you are & all you do