Thursday, 13 October 2022 11:55

Could Waikato solar farm be a ray of sunlight?

Written by  Leo Argent
The land will also operate a sheep grazing operation - taking over from a previous dairy herd. The land will also operate a sheep grazing operation - taking over from a previous dairy herd.

UK-based Harmony Energy was recently granted Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approval to develop a new solar farm in Te Aroha West.

Approximately 330,000 solar panels are to be installed over 182 hectares and are expected to provide up to 147MW of power, which will flow directly into the national grid for use by 30,000 homes and businesses. The land will remain in the ownership of Tauhei Farms Ltd, who will operate a sheep grazing operation – taking over from a previous dairy herd.

Co-founded by New Zealander Pete Grogan in 2010, Harmony Energy builds and operates renewable energy assets and systems throughout the UK and France. Its NZ arm was established in 2019.

Construction on the Te Aroha site is set to get underway in 2024, with an estimated operational date of 2025. Grogan says he is returning to New Zealand to help establish the local operation.

“One of the great advantages of solar power is that it accommodates dual use of land, allowing for energy generation alongside continued farming production,” says Grogan.

“This proposal also creates opportunities for local businesses and employment and creates significant biodiversity gains. Renewable energy is critical to supporting NZ’s net zero ambitions and mitigating climate change.”

The design of the solar farm will include ecological restoration of a 6.9 hectare wetland area. It will also incorporate boardwalks for educational visits from school students and community groups to learn about solar energy and biodiversity, as well as roosting trees for native bats.

“We have been speaking with iwi throughout the entire process to make sure we understand what is important to them and that our proposed ecological restoration is consistent with their aspirations. That includes visual integration into the landscape, as well as improving water quality, biodiversity and ecology.”

Grogan says he has high hopes for the future of solar energy in New Zealand claiming that while transitioning to netzero is important, solar farms can offer much more than just clean energy – pointing to the aforementioned grazing and cultural outreach aspects.

In addition to the Tauhei site, Harmony Energy claims to have a pipeline of over 500MW of projects planned for New Zealand in the future.

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