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Solar debate renewed

South Wairarapa residents are still uneasy about prospective solar farm plans, despite developer insistence that such projects are harmless.

An information evening scheduled for tomorrow night in Greytown aims to offer locals an opportunity to air their concerns surrounding the proposed industrial solar farm developments on nearby agricultural land.

The meeting will be hosted by the South Wairarapa Whenua Action Group [SWWAG], and topics on the table include potential impact on water and soil quality, as well as fire mitigation.

Describing proposed solar developments aimed for Greytown as experimental, SWWAG chair Peter Isaac said he hoped the meeting would “alert people to the change in environment”.

“It’s a matter for people in Greytown and Martinborough to realise that there are plans – really surprisingly close to fruition – for 1000 acres of industrial land in their midst,” Isaac said.

“In no other process do you have electro-heavy chemical equipment within just a few feet of land being grazed.”

Isaac – who has lived near Greytown for 35 years – said he believed organising community discussion about proposed solar developments was also important to flag a potential impact on Greytown’s tourism industry.

“So far it’s only 1000 acres, but there will be more, because of the proximity to the substation,” Isaac said.

“You have to ask yourself, if this is so non-imposing and non-jarring, why are there all these reports commissioned?” he asked.

“So people don’t have to see it?”

There has been significant interest in Wairarapa’s potential for solar energy development, with two notable expressions of interest from Helios Energy and Far North Solar Farms.

The latter has a resource consent application lodged for a 235-hectare solar farm on Greytown’s Bidwills Cutting Rd, which will be processed through the Environment Court.

When approached for comment regarding the SWWAG meeting tomorrow, a spokesperson for Far North Solar Farms declined to elaborate on local concerns. “Now that the matter is to be heard in the Environment Court it is not appropriate for us to comment on SWWAG’s views at this stage, except to say that we disagree with their points and will address any appropriate concerns in the Environment Court itself.”

Aware of local uncertainty around potential solar developments, Helios spokesperson Jonathan Hill was adamant that solar is entirely safe.

“While solar is new in New Zealand, it has been widely developed and operational around the world for over a decade,” Hill said.

“The event does not sound like an opportunity to discuss the massive benefits to New Zealand with responsible solar development,” he said.

Referring to solar as a passive technology, Hill said the land would remain in agricultural production with sheep grazing around the panels, and would be returned to its original state at the project’s end of life.

“It is a passive technology, it is almost completely silent, it does not contaminate soil or water and it does not represent additional fire risk,” Hill said.

“Responsibly developed solar projects, as on the outskirts of Greytown, can be set back from boundaries and screened with new planting so it is not visible from the road when entering Greytown.”

Speaking at tomorrow night’s event is Victoria University senior research fellow and environmental protection advocate Mike Joy.

Joy told the Times-Age that a holistic look at renewable energy was in order.

“We have increased consumption, so all it’s doing is keeping up with that,” Joy said.

“It’s been worse for the planet, because we’ve dug up parts of the world to make these things and ship them around, and they haven’t moved us in the right direction.”

Not opposed to renewable energy development, Joy said there was a place for it, but it needed to accompany a decrease in material use and consumption.

“If we try to replace fossil with renewable, it’ll kill us even quicker.

“That’s the point I’m trying to make.”


  1. If solar power and wind turbines so great why are we so dependent on hydropower. Huntley coal power, hydropower and our gas field will supply new Zealand for many many years. I think it’s a green and labour plus environmentalists nearly forgot climate change people.

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Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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