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Questions put to the panel


Public presentations have shown the spectrum of support for a 190-hectare solar energy farm in Greytown, and the gap to bridge it.

Representatives of Helios Energy and the newly formed South Wairarapa Whenua Advocacy Group [SWWAG] went respectfully head-to-head in Greytown’s Community Board meeting on Wednesday – a stark contrast to the reportedly hostile half hour at an information evening held the week before.

From the Helios side, senior environmental planner Sarah Tapp said the proposed plant at Bidwills Cutting Rd was part of the answer to New Zealand’s growing energy demand, and commitment to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Detractors have cited multiple reasons for opposition, including, the impact on property prices, radiation, and environmental contamination.

The woolshed event, hosted by Helios and the Kempton family, drew both enthusiasm and scepticism from the public on September 7.

Tapp said there was a mix of opinions at the event, which had about 50 people through in the first two hours.

“And at 6.30pm we had a large group turn up who had strong views in opposition.”

Attendees at the event described it as a co-ordinated ‘mob’ of 20-30 people demanding a ‘public answering’.

Sid Kempton said while the information evening provided great feedback overall, which his family and Helios welcomed, he conceded there was an element of aggression by some. “The questions were not asked in the manner we were expecting.”

Representing SWWAG at Wednesday’s community board meeting, Andrew Heaton said large-scale solar was in its infancy in New Zealand and urged the district council and community board to conduct a thorough and full review of the proposal.

He said the project, which was aiming for resource consent in 2023 and construction in 2024, had raised many concerns, including visual and noise pollution, frequency interference, disruption to flight paths, and potential negative impact on Wairarapa’s dark sky reserve.

Co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute and professor of chemical and physical sciences at Victoria University of Wellington Justin Hodgkiss, said rapid development in photovoltaic technology, or solar cells, meant information often persisted in the public domain long after its relevancy.

“The reports about contamination come from the end of their life. The actual solar panels are not going to leak, it’s like glass in the environment. The lead and the copper are completely encapsulated.”

He said the reports of lead leaching were related to panel dumping in landfills, which was a problem, however, increased recycling capabilities meant it was no longer the issue it was five to 10 years ago.

“It will not be the case for these solar panels.”

Hodgkiss said the panels did not emit radio frequency or have any effect on electromagnetic radiation, however, the inverters which converted electricity output from DC to AC in principle, could interfere with wifi and radio.

“But this is well-known, maybe 10 years ago people were noticing it. They are now engineered with shields and filters. I would be very surprised if there were any problems.”

Hodgkiss said solar farms provided the cheapest electricity that the world had ever produced, and it was only getting cheaper.

“Globally, the installation of solar panels had doubled every two years for the past 30 years, largely unnoticed.”

He said in the past few years it had become more observable and New Zealand had now reached a “tipping point”.


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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