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Solar energy proposals now account for 75 per cent of all national grid connection inquiries, according to Transpower’s latest reporting.

As New Zealand pushes toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the rise in applications for renewable energy generation has been described as a gold rush.

As of May 1, four connection inquiries for solar generation or battery energy storage systems [BESS] were on Transpower’s radar in Wairarapa – two in Greytown and two in Masterton.

Last year, Transpower reported 124 connection inquiries; this year alone, that figure sits at 80, with its latest reporting showing 74.6 per cent of new generation inquiries are related to solar.

In Greytown, the 235-hectare Far North Solar Farm [FNSF] proposal is the closest to connection with the national grid; with the Times-Age understanding the resource consent application will be officially publicly notified by South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] this week.

Despite the December 2022 application, as prepared by Williamson Water and Land Advisory on behalf of FNSF, considering the proposal could proceed without public notification, on April 28, SWDC issued a statement and decision that found some of the effects of the project “were more than minor … which made notification necessary”.

The 175MW [at peak production] solar farm will comprise more than 300,000 solar panels mounted on tracking tables [32 per table] that will reach a maximum height of 4.5 metres above the ground, with a proposed setback of about 10-12m from boundaries and roads.

A request for additional information from SWDC elicited two changes from the initial application, including a section of land on 18 Pharazyns Rd in Featherston, in addition to three separate parcels of land currently used for primary production on Bidwills Cutting and Moroa roads, as well as 40 inverters, up from the proposed 33.

The application states that construction would take place over a six- to nine-month period, with up to three truck deliveries per day.

Screening plantings would occur in winter 2024, followed by site preparation and infrastructure installation in the 2024-25 summer months.

To mitigate public and private viewpoints of the farm from Moroa, Settlement, Battersea, Bidwills Cutting and Pharazyn roads, a 3m wide planting strip of Japanese cedar in the “early construction phase” has been proposed, to ensure trees are 2.5-3m high by the time the farm is commissioned for use in December 2025.

The resource application said: “Once constructed, the solar farm requires some maintenance which will involve the creation of two fulltime equivalent roles locally.”

In its decision to alert the public to the proposal, SWDC said the project would be providing electricity to the national grid, “which is beneficial at a national, regional, and local level providing resilience to the supply of electricity”.

However, it also noted the amenity and character of the environment would be subject to change.

“While the solar panels themselves may not necessarily be evidently visible to those in the area, the vegetation planted at the perimeter of the site will be inconsistent with the patchwork shelterbelt landscape pattern present throughout the rural environment.”

The council noted that should the applicant wish “to continue, notices will be placed in the local papers and on the council website”.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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