The developer behind a large solar farm pitched for Greytown has vowed to improve its communication with local mana whenua about the project.
The application for a 235-hectare solar farm, including around 321,160 solar panels and 33 inverter stations, was referred to the Environment Court by South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] in September last year.
SWDC’s Māori Standing Committee heard on Tuesday from Far North Solar Farm communications and engagement lead Greg Hay, who started off with an apology.
“Some of you are unaware of the plans we have and the submission we’ve put forward to construct a solar farm in Greytown,” Hay told the committee.
“The real reason why we’re here is because of a failure on our part to get the correct lay of the land and not understand whom we needed to talk to as far as mana whenua goes.
“I put my hand up and apologise for that.”
Noting that Far North Solar Farm had already been engaging with Kahungunu ki Wairarapa’s general manager Tai Gemmell, Hay said that they should have been more thorough with iwi engagement.
He said he had tried to reach out to Pāpāwai Marae in Greytown. The land for the proposed development – which Far North Solar Farm is leasing off the owner who currently uses it for farming – will still have sheep grazed on it.
When asked how the development would impact the whenua [land], Hay compared it to constructing a vineyard.
“Panels when they go on are fairly benign,” he said.
“Piles go into the ground which can be taken out at any stage if the facility is decommissioned, and we’re not touching any waterways or water courses.”
Other questions from committee members tackled disposal methods when the panels reach their end of life and what local benefit would result from the development.
Hay said that while recycling infrastructure doesn’t yet exist in New Zealand for solar panels, it is anticipated that by the time panels reach their end of life, there will be technology to dispose of materials sustainably.
In terms of local benefit, Hay said there would be efforts to target local employment for the build and operation of the facility and that renewable energy investment provides a nationwide benefit.
When asked if any money would come back to the local community, Hay said that although the company has a “strong desire to provide community good”, it was unlikely.
“The short answer is we have investors who are backing this, and they’re doing it for a financial return,” Hay said.
“Government has signalled we need to develop this kind of infrastructure to keep the lights on in the country, so we think we’re doing the right thing for the wider environment and community.”
Hay said believes a hearing at the Environment Court for the application is pencilled in for some time in May.