Mary Warner's passion for social justice and the environment began in university. Her initial interests were focused on international development, and she attended a post-grad program for International Project Management. It was there that Mary's personal priorities shifted – in the age of the “global village”, exploring the international perspective can change the way we look at our own communities, and Mary realized she wanted to refocus her career to make an impact locally. As she continued through her post-grad, Mary discovered a talent and passion for accounting while she was learning about project accounting and grant-writing. When we asked her what it was about accounting that interested her the most, Mary told us that she likes to organize and has a talent for math; so, she decided to leverage her natural skills to support a cause important to her. When an opportunity arose with the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative (TREC), it was a natural fit for Mary. She started with office manager tasks, but as TREC grew, Mary transitioned naturally into the finance and bookkeeping department, where she currently uses her skills and passion to support an important cause - one that is environmentally-conscious and allows her to make an impactful change in local communities.
We asked Mary to tell us about a successful renewable energy cooperative (co-op), and to talk about some of the unique aspects about being a bookkeeper for a co-op. She told us about SolarShare, which is one of TREC's currently most popular and successful community-owned power projects. It currently has 37 operational projects across southern Ontario, and to date has generated more than $26 million dollars in community bond investments. Mary has had the opportunity to see SolarShare flourish from an idea, gain financial footing, and acquire projects through the FIT process, both through the application process and purchasing of existing FIT projects. In this example, one of the unique aspects of accounting for SolarShare is tracking the finances of multiple vs. single projects.For co-ops, there is a higher standard to maintain good records and sign-off procedures to ensure accountability to community investors. Unlike regular business investments, SolarShare focuses on making their financial reports accessible to the average person, to ensure their community investors can clearly understand their investments.
SolarShare's success is a testament to the passion and dedication of the co-op board and staff,, and also demonstrates the appetite for socially-conscious investments that can help support and develop community green energy projects while also providing great returns. If people are looking for other ways to encourage and support their local communities, Mary invites people to look out for local cooperatives and provide other resources like volunteer time and expertise. Participating in events, joining the board, and spreading the word are all great ways to help local co-ops grow and succeed.
Mary joined the WiRE advisory board back in 2015, and has volunteered her time and bookkeeping expertise to the organization. She's proud to see all the things WiRE has been able to accomplish with its relatively modest resources, highlighting how a little can go a long way when you have a team of passionate individuals. Mary's experience with WiRE is also a great way to highlight her advice to people looking to join the renewable energy industry - a great deal of work happens behind the scenes for every kind of project. There are engineers, specialists, and subject experts at every step of the way, but there is also a very real need for a variety of skills to support the full development of a project. There are a lot of career paths and opportunities into each industry, and people should look for ways to leverage their personal strengths and skills in a way that can be helpful to the causes that are important to them.
By Jennifer Ng, WiRE Volunteer