Non-profit Earth Day Canada is mounting a final push in its bid to raise $2 million in community bonds to help finance its EcoCharge high-speed EV charging network
Pierre Lussier has high ambitions to re-shape the future of mobility across Canada through a community of investors.
In late 2020, Lussier, president of the Montreal-based, environmental non-profit Earth Day Canada, unveiled that organization’s EcoCharge network, with a plan to install 100 DC fast chargers at 50 IGA grocery stores across Quebec and New Brunswick by the end of 2022.
Earth Day’s non-profit status sets it apart from other charging network developers in Canada. But what makes it unique is its use of community bonds, a form of social financing available only to non-profits, charities and co-operatives, to help fund the EcoCharge network’s construction while enabling individuals to invest in the project and earn a return, along with other benefits, in the process.
Since launching its community bonds program last spring, Earth Day Canada has raised over $1 million and amassed 120 investors. Its goal is to hit $2 million by this April 22 — Earth Day — when the campaign closes.
“It’s a great tool for community infrastructure, especially the vision we have for EcoCharge,” says Lussier, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “That was the stem for us as a value commitment to our charging network, but also to introduce community bonds to Quebec.”
Funding with benefits
To date, Earth Day has installed and activated 20 of its planned 50 stations. If it meets it community bonds goal, the funds raised will cover between 13 and 14 per cent of the total cost.
But the benefits go beyond funding, says Ryan Collins-Swartz, co-executive director of Tapestry Community Capital, the Toronto-based community investment speciality firm that’s managing Earth Day’s program.
“The community bond is a tool that allows non-profits, charities and co-operatives to raise money entirely on their terms,” says Collins-Swartz.
Their use also allows the non-profit’s community members to gain a sense of ownership in the project.
“Community bonds are one of the only investments where you know exactly where your money is going. I can make it [in] my city and actually get to visit that building, or get to charge my car in that station,” Collins-Swartz says. “It creates a direct connection with your investments.”
Quebec taking Ontario’s cue
Community bonds aren’t new, but thus far in Canada they’ve been more widely used in Ontario than in Quebec, Lussier says.
He points to the achievements of SolarShare, a Toronto-based renewable energy co-op that has over 2,000 members who have invested $65 million into solar projects in Ontario, and how they have helped establish community bonds as a viable option for folks to buy into in the province.
“Community investment is something more ingrained into, I think, the Anglophone community,” Lussier says. “There is not more community engagement from one side to another, I think it’s just different ways we operate.”
There are other organizations in Quebec that have used community bonds, Collins-Swartz says, such as Brique par brique that helps provide affordable housing in the province and the movie theatre Cinéma du Parc.
“They have a really strong solidarity economy and a strong tradition of supporting local,” Collins-Swartz says. “So I really predict community bonds to grow a lot in Quebec.”
Since launching Earth Day’s community bond, Lussier agrees the tables are turning and that community bonds will become an even bigger model of financing in Quebec.
“We’re already the largest [issuer] of community bonds in Quebec. I think it’s happening now that [community bonds] is a tool that is going to be developed into more Francophone communities,” he says.
EcoCharge’s community bonds
Individuals or organizations that choose to invest in the EcoCharge community bond are given two options as to how they can manage their bond.
The first option is for investors to lock into a seven-year commitment with four per cent interest; the second option is a five-year commitment at three and a half per cent interest. The minimum investment in both cases is $1,000.
Regardless of the option someone chooses, investors are given rewards in addition to becoming members of the EcoCharge project.
A $1,000 investment, for example, will get an investor one hour of free charging. At $10,000, the individual will receive 10 hours of free charging, and a $25,000 investment will place the investor’s name on an Ecotank windshield washer dispenser.
So far, Lussier says, it’s been mainly individuals who have invested in the community bonds, averaging $6,000 per investment. However, earlier this year, Earth Day Canada also received a $300,000 investment from the Montreal-based Trottier Family Foundation.
Earth Day also says that even if it falls short of its $2-million bond goal, its plan to complete the 50 stations will continue thanks to the support of other financial partners. But the aim is to build it with as much community support as possible.
“We want to build the relation of proximity within the bondholders and clients, we see the charging station as more than a charging station but as a community infrastructure,” Lussier says. “We want the people to own the charging stations.”
Looking beyond 2022, Lussier says he hopes to take EcoCharge farther across Canada, with a goal of turning it into a national network by 2025.
“My hope is that we’re going to play a role in the last mile, play a national role in reshaping mobility,” he says.
Whether community bonds will be part of that next phase isn’t known, but that would certainly align with Lussier’s vision and Earth Day Canada’s success with them to date.
“It’s great for us that we can use this to bring communities together,” Lussier says.