The Carterton District Council office. PHOTO/FILE
A groundbreaking solar park proposal hoped to provide cheap renewal energy to Carterton has stalled, with councillors unable to vote on the issue due to confusion and a lack of information.
The proposal from co-op Energy Democracy aims to bring solar energy to people who might not otherwise be able to access it – be it because they are renters, or because the house they own is not well situated.
But with a costly buy-in of about $10,000, the question was raised at a Carterton District Council meeting this week as to whether it was out of reach for those on lower incomes and that there might be better use for the council owned land.
The debate once again emerged between councillors, amid confusion some believed they were supposed to have another workshop before deciding.
Chief executive Jane Davis said an email saying there would be a workshop on the subject was an “error”.
There was a push to put it to a vote, but voices around the table were unsure, leading Carterton Mayor John Booth to intervene.
Mr Booth said if it was going to go ahead it was something they all needed to be comfortable with.
“I’m a great fan of solar energy, it’s the way of the future.
“But if we are going to be first up, let’s make sure we are all happy.”
Ms Davis said the longer the council waited to decide, the more likely it was Energy Democracy would walk away from them.
The committee had a workshop on the subject later that day, and decided to put it to a vote on December 13 at a full council meeting.
Councillor Tracey O’Callaghan said a big issue to consider was the opportunity cost.
There was potential the council could own a solar park that could help run the sewerage system – it would be a smaller operation but a step towards offsetting some of the “quite huge power costs” to run that sewage farm, she said.
In line with the present government, there may be some grant money to fund that, she said.
“It’s needs to be part of a more strategic overview on the council’s response to climate change.
“I’m a big fan of renewable energy but I want to look at all the options before committing to something that would lock the ratepayers and community in for something like 30 plus years.”
Another concern was that it would not be accessible to lower income families, she said.
“I’d hate for people to put $10,000 in to something and for them to lose their money, that would be disastrous.”
Councillor Jill Greathead said it felt like it was being imposed but the council still did not have enough information.
There was a real risk when investing in new technology, especially for a small community, she said.
Ms Greathead said it was not a community-driven initiative but a business proposal, and it boiled down to the business case.
She said she did not believe it would be accessible to people on lower incomes.
Councillor Rebecca Vergunst said the land council was considering leasing to Energy Democracy was “not a prime location” and that the council did not have plans for it.
It could be a good opportunity, she said.
Deputy Mayor Russell Keys said he would like to see it go forward if possible.
“The way of the future is renewable energy,” he said.
“It’s a good look for Carterton District Council.”
Councillor Greg Lang said it was a good idea that ticked all the boxes.
“It’s a forward-thinking initiative that would utilise a bit of ground that really doesn’t have a use and, from what I can see, doesn’t have any future use.
“There’s no real risk for the council.
“It’s something a bit different that gives Carterton an edge and goes along with what we are doing at the wastewater plant with the wetlands and the state-of-the-art treatment system.”
All council would do is make the land available, he said.
“If the proposal is sound enough people will buy into it, and if not, at least we offered that opportunity.”