A solar park in the US. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

ELISA VORSTER
elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

Plans to start a solar park in Carterton offering renewable, accessible energy could become reality in as little as six weeks’ time, depending on whether the public come up with the funds.

Siblings Alan and Shelley Major of Energy Democracy have secured an option to lease council-owned public land to establish the park which will offer up to 600 2.5kW parcels with 5kWh battery storage.

Ms Major said the idea behind the project was to allow more people access to renewable energy at a reasonable price as well as building a stronger, healthier economy.

“It’s helping to conserve power but also everything is sold into the market at the best price – it’s not just what the big boys decide.”

Ms Major said it was still finalising supplier costs, but her goal was to initially harness up to 200 members at a cost of under $10,000 per parcel, with one parcel providing half of the average household’s power needs.

Ms Major was confident it had the support it needed to get off the ground, with online registrations of interest already open to the public.

“We’ve already had 180 registrations of interest just within Wairarapa,” she said.

As the initiative was a co-operative, she preferred to refer to those involved as members, as opposed to investors.

“One member has one voice, regardless of how many shares they hold,” she said.

She was also proud to call it a “sustainable co-operative”, saying people only had to invest once.

“There will still be money in the bank after 20 years without asking members to fork out again.”

Planning and regulatory manager Dave Gittings said the community-focused scheme would benefit “currently disenfranchised non-land owners who may wish to be part of a renewable energy source”.

“The provision of council-owned public land was fundamental to the principle of an energy democracy and although it is not driven by council, the council has supported the idea.”

The option to lease the land expires in mid-2019 with Ms Major hoping it would be built by the end of this year, depending on the supply chain.

Asked why she picked Carterton as home for the solar park, she said, “Carterton picked us”.

Carterton District Council chief executive Jane Davis felt that the values of the Australian concept resonated with the strong, green community, Ms Major said.

“Carterton District Council have been very forward thinking and are leading the charge here.”

The council had expressed an interest in investing in the initiative but said the numbers would need to stack up.

“It really depends on what Energy Democracy present in their prospectus,” Mr Gittings said.

“The dollar savings have to add up to the investment.

“When the numbers are known, it could be put to council for a decision.”

Energy Democracy are now in the process of presenting a product disclosure statement to the New Zealand Financial Markets Association before formally accepting applications, which they are hoping to do
next month.