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Another solar farm on the horizon

The latest addition to an ever-expanding list of renewable energy developments eyeing the region is a 147-hectare solar farm that – if approved – would border SH2 south of Masterton.

The proposal is being led by New Zealand Clean Energy [NZCE], a developer that installs and manages long-term utility-scale renewable energy projects.

NZCE has identified a site in Waingawa for the development that’s been selected for its proximity to a grid connection, high levels of solar irradiation, and land qualities.

The development would contain 166,000 solar panels on 138 hectares of the site and would generate enough electricity to supply an estimated 35,000 homes.

Neighbours and affected parties have been contacted via email or post, according to NZCE, and there was a public drop-in session held by the developer in Masterton last month, where about 25 parties attended with specific questions about the proposal.

NZCE national land development manager Oliver Jordan believes engagement with the community has been successful to date.

“We have been able to share the project information with the community, and we have been able to engage with 30 plus parties, including those representing adjoining and adjacent properties,” Jordan said.

“We hope that through our conversations … we have managed to demonstrate that this project will be positive for the local community and area.” Regarding engagement with mana whenua, Jordan said conversations have been “positive to date” and would continue throughout the process.

He noted the project has been designed in line with Fire and Emergency NZ recommendations and standards.

The Times-Age has reported on several solar farm developments proposed for the region, with a Light Years Solar small-scale project approved in Carterton and a large-scale project proposed for Greytown that’s spearheaded by Far North Solar Farms referred to the Environment Court for a hearing next year.

There is also another solar farm project pitched for Greytown by Helios Energy that has engaged in community consultation but not yet lodged an application, and an application by Harmony Energy for a 281-hectare development in Carterton that’s been referred to the Environmental Protection Authority under its fast-track consenting legislation.

A spokesperson for Transpower said that there were five enquiries from renewable energy developers about connecting to the grid in Wairarapa this year.

The spokesperson said national connection enquiries peaked last year with around 120 enquiries, compared to 52 enquiries [30 for solar, 19 for wind, and three for “other”] received this year.

The increase in solar developers’ interest in the region has led to the recent launch of a community petition calling for clearer regulations for such industrial projects by the South Wairarapa Whenua Action Group [SWWAG].

Jordan said that while NZCE is not aware of SWWAG specifically, the company is “aware of a broader sentiment aligned with that of SWWAG” within the Greytown area.

“To date, we have not had any concern from the community,” Jordan said, while also acknowledging that “we are aware that there is the potential for this sentiment to exist within the community that hasn’t been brought to our attention.”

Jordan said community engagement will continue as the project progresses, and that a resource consent application will be lodged by the end of January.

If approved, Jordan said NZCE hopes to start construction towards the end of 2024, with operation of the solar site commencing up to 18 months later.

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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