Residents split over power play
Solar farm proposal generates support, questions
Residents are split over a solar farm proposal that could see thousands of panels built in a rural Waikato settlement within the next 18 months.
UK-based company Harmony Energy New Zealand wants to build 329,000 solar panels on 182 hectares of a 260-hectare site at Te Aroha West, 61 kilometres northeast of Hamilton.
If the application under the Covid Recovery Act is successful, the farm could generate enough electricity to power 30,000 homes with the first power output scheduled for October 2023.
Jane Anderson has lived in her Te Aroha home for 15 years and, while she supports the concept, says she asks ‘‘Why use good farmland?’’
‘‘I have no objections, but I would have like to see more consultation with the neighbouring community.
‘‘I was apprehensive when I received the brochure in the letterbox in December, it looks like a very expensive procedure.’’
Anderson questioned if the farm would ‘‘really benefit the country’’.
Harmony director Pete Grogan has previously said it would reduce the need to generate from non-renewable sources such as the Huntly power station.
It would also allow dual land use by combining energy generation with continued farming production, Grogan said.
Once complete, the solar panels could produce up to 147 megawatts of power at peak times – with all electricity flowing directly to the national grid for use by homes and businesses, Grogan added.
The proposal came as ‘‘great news’’ to Jessie and Shane Hutchins, whose home is powered by solar.
‘‘Solar has reduced our power significantly,’’ Shane said.
‘‘It just depends on how intrusive the solar farm becomes – if it’s in the background and out of the way then it’s no problem to me.’’
According to the project plans, all panels and equipment will be set back from the roads by at least 120 metres and 150m from neighbourhood houses.
Roadside areas will remain available for grazing and residents and the public will not be able to ‘‘take in a long view across solar panels through the site’’.
One resident, who does not want to be named, believes the project could devalue his property by seven per cent – based on overseas reports online.
‘‘If I wanted to put another storey onto my home, I’d be stuffed – all I’d see is solar panels,’’ they said.
‘‘I don’t have any major problems with it, the developer is addressing residents and their concerns, but when does it become an overkill if solar farms keep popping up around New Zealand like they have been.’’
The Te Aroha proposal is one of two enormous solar projects earmarked for Waikato.
The site was chosen for its existing high voltage electrical infrastructure, flat and open land, and is owned by Tauhei Farms Ltd. The farm would be converted into a sheep farm rather than the current dairy herd if successful.
Construction would likely start in late 2022 and be completed by late 2023. The first power output is scheduled for October 2023.
Resident, Todd Luxton, said he was all for it.
‘‘They’re doing heaps of planting for nature, so that’s a step in the right direction.’’
The design will include the retention of native bat roosting trees, the establishment of riparian corridors and ecological restoration of a 7.2 hectare on-site wetland area.
Boardwalks would also be incorporated for scheduled educational visits from school students and community groups to learn about solar energy and biodiversity.