New Zealand renewables developer Lodestone Energy said groundworks have commenced at the company’s 39.4 MW Kaitaia Solar Farm being built near the town of the same name in the far north of the nation’s North Island.
Lodestone confirmed the company reached financial close for project last month and that construction contracts have since been issued, all the required solar equipment has been ordered and early works have now commenced at the site.
The company said the first of the expected 60,000 solar panels will be installed in February 2023, and power generation is expected in the third quarter of 2023. The project is expected to generate 55 GWh of renewable energy a year.
Lodestone Energy Managing Director Gary Holden said breaking ground is an enormous milestone for the project which, when completed, will dwarf the country’s largest existing solar farm, the 2.1 MW Kapuni plant in Taranaki, which is operated by Nova Energy.
“For years we’ve had a vision to deliver Aotearoa’s largest solar project, giving New Zealanders an alternative power option and playing a key role in meeting the country’s zero-carbon goals,” he said.
The solar farm is being built on 20 hectares of farmland about three kilometres west of Kaitaia and Holden said the company is committed to maintaining farming practices and preserving and restoring pockets of native bush.
“Beyond the energy we’re generating, we’re also reforesting seven hectares with native trees,” he said. “Then once the solar panels are installed our design allows machinery and livestock to happily exist around the solar arrays, meaning agriculture and grazing can continue.”
The Kaitaia Solar Farm is the first in a suite of large-scale PV projects Lodestone has planned for New Zealand.
The company is developing solar farms in Dargaville, Waiotahe Valley, Edgecumbe and Whitianga, and is also looking for other sites to build on.
“While we’re proud to see works commence in Kaitaia, this is just the beginning,” Holden said. “We have a full construction pipeline already during the next 30 months.”
“These farms are a game changer for the electricity market and will increase New Zealand’s current solar generation eightfold.”
The development of utility scale solar in New Zealand has until now been sluggish compared to neighbouring Australia. About 80% of New Zealand’s electricity is from renewable sources, mostly hydro generation, but less than 1% is generated by solar power.
Data provided by the government-owned Electricity Authority shows that the roll out of solar is starting to accelerate. At the end of last year, New Zealand had 186.7 MW of grid-connected PV power installed, of which 72.4 MW was installed in the preceding 24 months.
Since then, domestic and international developers have announced multiple large-scale projects across the country.
Wellington-based Todd Generation, through subsidiary Nova Energy, is pursuing plans to establish a 400 MW solar farm at Rangitāiki on the North Island and New Zealand’s Contact Energy has teamed with Lightsource bp, the renewables arm of Britain-based BP, to develop a large-scale solar portfolio.
German investment manager Aquila Capital has partnered with Auckland-based renewables developer Far North Solar Farm (FNSF) to develop a suite of large-scale solar PV projects across the North and South islands and Helios Energy, formed by a group of United States and New Zealand entrepreneurs, is also pursuing grid-scale solar developments in the country while the New Zealand arm of UK-based Harmony Energy has announced plans build the 147 MW Tauhei Solar Farm in the Waikato region of the North Island.
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