Lightsource bp lands 150 MW solar farm deal at NZ airport


Christchurch Airport has named Lightsource bp, an equal joint venture between UK-based solar specialist Lightsource and oil giant bp, and New Zealand energy giant Contract Energy as its partners to help develop the 150 MW first phase of the planned Kōwhai Park renewable energy precinct.

The first stage of the park will initially consist of a 150 MW solar farm capable of generating 290 GWh of clean energy per year which will be utilised to help the aviation industry shift away from fossil fuels. Battery energy storage and green hydrogen generation is also earmarked for the precinct in the future with Christchurch Airport seeking to accelerate the decarbonisation of industry in New Zealand.

“This starts with the solar farm but we’re working to include green hydrogen generation down the track,” Christchurch Airport Chief Executive Officer Justin Watson said. “Kōwhai Park will enable low-emissions aviation and help provide the extra green energy New Zealand needs to transition away from fossil fuels.”

“We’re excited to have found partners with the technical capability to do this well and the values to ensure it’s done right.”

The solar farm, to comprise an estimated 300,000 solar panels, will be developed on a 300-hectare site adjacent to the runways at the Christchurch airport. The location is close to power distributor Orion’s network and to grid operator Transpower’s lines.

Subject to a final investment decision, construction of the solar farm is expected to commence in 2024.

The Kōwhai Park project is Lightsource bp’s first in New Zealand but it is unlikely to be the last.

In April 2022, Lightsource bp and Contract Energy entered a partnership to co-develop a portfolio of large-scale solar projects from which Contact will purchase the solar electricity via a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA).

A rendering of the proposed Kōwhai Park solar farm.

Image: Christchurch Airport

Contact Energy Chief Executive Officer Mike Fuge said the Kōwhai Park forms a solid foundation for the development partnership which has committed to creating up to 380,000 MWh of grid-scale solar generation by 2026.

“This project will deliver over half of that,” he said. “We’re bringing our proven track record of delivering domestic renewable projects in order to meet the massive anticipated demand for renewable electricity in New Zealand.”

Lightsource bp’s Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand Adam Pegg said the company, which has established itself as one of Australia’s largest solar developers, is excited by the opportunities in New Zealand.

“We’re delighted to launch our first project in New Zealand and to be partnering with organisations who, like us, want to play a leading role in New Zealand’s decarbonisation,” he said.

“Lightsource bp has a strong international track record of successfully delivering utility scale solar projects, and with our partners at Contact Energy we look forward to working closely with Christchurch Airport on the development, construction and operation of Kōwhai Park.”

The Kōwhai Park project is among multiple large-scale solar projects being pursued across the country.

New Zealand government-owned Genesis Energy and renewables partner FRV Australia plan to commence construction of a 52 MW Lauriston Solar Farm on New Zealand’s South Island later this year.

Renewables developer Lodestone Energy said it has already begun groundworks 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 said the project is the first of five utility-scale solar farms it intends to develop across the upper North Island.

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