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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Submissions give power to the people

At the time of print, less than 48 hours remain for submissions on Far North Solar Farms’ 235-hectare proposal in Greytown.

Consultation on the 321,000-panel solar farm closes tomorrow at 4pm.

Unsurprisingly, the Times-Age has heard a variety of arguments – with a sprinkling of spin – for and against the project [and Greytown’s second 190-hectare solar proposal by Helios Energy].

There are a few inescapable truths and powers at play here; the push toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels – including decarbonisation mandates and the government’s decision to fast track renewable projects – increasing demand for electricity generation, and the impact large-scale renewable energy projects have on those living nearby.

Greytown’s not the only township to be navigating the resultant tension.

According to national grid governing body Transpower, interest in renewable energy generation has “increased dramatically” in the past few years.

That interest, translates to national grid connection inquiries, three-quarters of which relate to solar generation – amounting to 14.8 gigawatts of new capacity.

Chantelle Bramley, Transpower’s general manager of strategy and customer, says to put this into context, “There is currently close to 10GW of generation capacity connected to the grid in New Zealand from all generation sources.”

She stresses that not all inquiries translate to builds, but says that it demonstrates a clear interest from the industry.

The company is currently working with more than 20 solar farm developers, each at varying stages of development.

The government has also taken steps to fast-track solar projects in the interest of stimulating the economy.

In April, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Environment Minister David Parker announced two Waikato solar farms – together almost half a million solar panels – would be referred for fast-tracking, taking the total number of renewable energy projects referred through the covid-19 Recovery Fast-track Consenting Act since late 2021, to five.

“Delivery of fast-track consenting has been a key part of the government’s strategy to accelerate economic recovery and boost jobs, while speeding up our emissions reduction,” Hipkins said.

He said in addition to meeting objects to decarbonise, as many as 280 jobs could be created.

The upshot is that solar panel farms are coming, and fast, and the best way to have a say on such projects – regardless of view – is to submit on the consent.

Member of the New Zealand Planning Institute and former Associate Professor of Massey’s Resource and Environmental Planning Programme, Dr Caroline Miller says the nation’s planning system “is incredibly open in terms of giving submissions and planning rights”, and maintains the power to grant consents should remain in the hands of the councils.

“The fact that they have chosen to publicly notify [Far North Solar Farms’ proposal] means the council believes there is a wide group of people that may potentially be affected.

“However, we always assume that people submit in opposition, many may also submit in support.”

Miller maintains the current process for consenting gives the community rights in the decision-making process, but says there is always a trade-off.

It’s what many will see as a particularly difficult balancing act. To get something we need, we may have to give up something we want.

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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