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$140m investment

Solar farms are fast becoming a key player in growing global energy demand. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

190ha solar farm planned for Greytown
Sheep grazing beneath ‘fixed’ solar panels. Helios’ proposed panels will track the sun throughout the day.

Greytown is primed to welcome the Greek god of the sun, Helios, in the form of a solar farm with the potential to power 20,000 homes.

New Zealand company, Helios Energy, has proposed a solar farm on 190ha of land at Bidwills Cutting Rd and Kemptons Line, just off South Wairarapa’s State Highway 2.

The estimated $140 million project, in partnership with long-time Greytown family, the Kemptons, is out for community consultation.

It proposes a 35-year lease on the Kempton’s land, with a solar farm that could produce enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

Although the number of solar panels is yet to be determined, Helios said the farm would be a significant scale-up from current operations.

Helios director Jason McDonald said solar farms were fast becoming a key player in addressing the growing global energy demand and complemented other renewable energy sources.

“It’s a fact that the world needs to dramatically cut its emission of carbon if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.”

He said with national energy demand projected to increase by up to 70 per cent by 2050, the switch from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy needed to take place where ever possible and quickly.

He said it was a little-known fact that New Zealand had a solar resource on par with the south of France, and the Kempton’s land was one of many areas being explored with green electricity in mind.

“We were looking for areas near the grid that had the available capacity to connect and were suitably sunny.”

McDonald said that, if approved, the farm would take shape fairly quickly, with the aim to employ local contractors over the 12-month construction period.

With a warranty of at least 30 years, there was also a need for ongoing and regular maintenance. He said once in place, the land would continue to be grazed.

“There’s a dual benefit there. The panels are far enough off the ground to graze beneath, so the land continues its agricultural use, and it helps us with maintenance.

Helios senior environmental planner Sarah Tapp said with solar farms relatively new to New Zealand, the biggest hurdle was often the visual impact.

She said the proposal for the Kemptons Line-Bidwills Cutting Rd site would see low-lying panels sitting back from the road.

“The visual component is key. Generally, with solar projects, you look at the site from a satellite view.”

She said the site had boundary trees in place, but the company would seek to screen the panels from view with more native planting.

Tapp said the aim was to lodge a resource consent application in 2023.

However, no steps would be taken until after consultation with mana whenua and the wider community.

Landowner Barry Kempton said the hectares on offer for the solar farm had been in the family for seven generations and in that time it had been put to a wide range of uses.

He said the family was always looking for opportunities for the future of the farm, but that did not include subdivision.

“Climate change is real and we have seen its effects on our farm. We feel we need to plan for the future now and also be part of the solution.”

Kempton said solar power was a means to address New Zealand’s increasing demand for power.

He said that after speaking with a range of solar developers, Helios felt like the right partner.

“We were very impressed with their experience and their proposed approach to iwi, neighbour and wider community engagement from the very start.”

Helios and the Kemptons will be hosting an informal workshop at the Kempton’s woolshed from 4-7pm on September 7.

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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