A solar farm larger than the Auckland and Christchurch CBDs combined could start construction near Taupō as soon as this summer, Marc Daalder reports
A 400 megawatt solar farm planned for the Taupō region could produce 190 times more electricity than New Zealand’s current largest grid-connected solar facility, Newsroom can reveal.
Nova Energy, owned by the Todd Corporation, has applied for two resource consents from Taupō District Council to construct the project in three stages over six or seven years. When completed, it will involve more than 750,000 individual solar panels and could power 100,000 homes – more than one in every 20 houses across New Zealand.
“To meet the 2050 net carbon zero target, New Zealand needs more renewable energy, which Nova can provide,” the company’s CEO Babu Bahirathan said.
Nova already runs the country’s largest solar farm connected to the electric grid, the 2.1 megawatt Kapuni plant in Taranaki. The new project would be far and away the largest solar farm in New Zealand, with more than double the capacity of a 150 MW farm being constructed at Christchurch Airport.
About three quarters of a million individual solar panels covering more than 1000 hectares will track the sun from east to west each day. The panels will cover an area larger than Auckland and Christchurch’s CBDs combined and will displace an existing dairy farm. The solar project will be built in three stages of 150 MW, 150 MW and 100 MW, with the dairying scaled down as the panels are brought in.
However, Nova is hopeful that other rural activities could continue to occur on the site. A spokesperson for the district council said that could include sheep grazing, cropping, pollinator planting and beekeeping. Waterways would also be rejuvenated and riparian margins would be planted with native flora.
“This isn’t just a race to build the most megawatts quickly. Being a Kiwi-owned business we care about the community, we consult with them and will always put things right,” Bahirathan said.
Work could begin as soon as this summer if the consents are granted. Bahirathan said Nova has also purchased land in the South Island with an eye towards constructing a 300 MW solar farm.
Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods hailed the Taupō project as the latest in a long line of large-scale renewable energy projects – more than $2 billion worth. “It shows a massive amount of activity as generators look to meet New Zealand’s future electricity needs and move away from fossil fuel generation,” she said.
“It’s also great to see independent operators like Nova making a move into renewable generation in this way.”
Woods said the Government was working to remove any obstacles to new renewable electricity generation. A proposal to use the Resource Management Act to incentivise renewable generation will go out for consultation later this year.
Rick Keehan, chief executive of the Taupō regional development agency Amplify, said the construction would bring hundreds of jobs to the region.
“There’s quite a good range of jobs while they build it, right from absolutely zero skill, if you can turn up, you’re good to go. But then there’s training opportunities and qualifications that can come out of it. With the growth of the energy sector around this district, the world’s your oyster once you get an initial bit of experience. I think it’s really positive and we’ll support the application as much as we can,” he added.
“When that’s done, there’s still that future opportunity for work with crops or with small livestock – certainly not dairy.”
Keehan said the project could also create opportunities for how to use that electricity, like data centres or energy intensive manufacturing. It also furthered the development of the region as a renewable energy centre, building on geothermal and hydroelectric credentials.
“It’s great, it’s really exciting around town. There’s so many people working in energy now. We’re sort of known as a tourism town, but there’s so much more going on.”