Neoliberal governance is setting the context for a revitalization of co-operative development in Canada as provinces retreat from services provided and developed in the welfare-state era. Governments are opening provincial electricity markets to private actors, particularly for new generation from renewable sources: wind, solar and run-of-river hydro. This power sector restructuring has implications for democratic control, economic development, and environmental sustainability in Canada. Some actors hope that neoliberal restructuring will lead to smaller, renewable and more locally based power systems. Others are concerned restructuring shifts power away from public utilities developed in the post-war era to large private actors, with community groups playing a marginal and sometimes legitimating role. This thesis explores the development and potential of electricity co-operatives in Canada as they relate to larger debates over sustainability and power sector ownership. With climate change looming large, the issue of electricity co-operative potential is both theoretically and empirically significant. Co-operatives are unique actors in the power sector with a long history in distribution. They distribute voting power equally within their membership, work within a multiple bottom line framework, and help to reduce local opposition to proposed new projects by engaging the community and giving them a financial stake. I argue that while provincial restructuring has opened up space for co-operative enterprises as an alternate, more democratic and local form of independent power production, these organizations are significantly constrained in practice by broader moves towards continentalism, private ownership and export of Canadian power to the United States.
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Thesis advisor: Cohen, Marjorie Griffin
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