New Zealand’s largest utility-scale solar project starts generating power

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New Zealand renewables developer Lodestone Energy has started generating energy at its solar farm at Kaitaia. The 39.4 MW Kaitaia Solar Farm has been built near the town of the same name at the far north of the North Island. Starting work in late 2022 and breaking ground in April 2023, the project should now generate 55 GWh of power annually.

Besides the Kaitaia Solar Farm, Lodestone’s phase one capital program includes solar projects at Edgecumbe, Waiotahe, Whitianga and Dargaville. While Kaitaia is the first of Lodestone’s solar farms to start generating, Edgecumbe is expected to be commissioned early in 2024 and Waiotahe late in the same year.

Gary Holden, Managing Director of Lodestone Energy, told local media, “This project ushers in a new era for energy in New Zealand. Kaitaia is the first solar farm at this scale and is a key step in helping New Zealand deliver on its climate goals. It is also crucially important to our customers who have contracted with us to meet their own sustainable energy objectives.”

The Kaitaia project is an agrivoltaic project, so agricultural activity can continue in and around the solar installations and even be enhanced by the solar facility. The project is surrounded by regeneration efforts with tree planting, among other elements.

The first of the native trees being planted at the Kaitaia Solar Farm project site where Lodestone is reforesting seven hectares of the area.

Image: Lodestone Energy

With more than 61,000 solar panels installed at the North Island plant, the farm’s 55 GWh of power annually will flow to residential and commercial energy consumers, including all of the stores in New Zealand’s Warehouse Group, which is signed up to Lodestone’s phase 1 portfolio.

Lodestone Energy is New Zealand’s first utility-scale solar generation company and is wholly New Zealand-owned. About 80% of New Zealand’s electricity is from renewable sources, most of which is hydro generation, and less than 1% is generated by solar power. This looks set to change as the field of solar energy slowly ramps up in Aotearoa.

This week, the New Zealand Herald also reported that another, albeit smaller, solar farm has also started generating power.  The Te Ihi o te Rā solar facility has just started generating power in Gisborne’s airport district on the mid-east coast of the north island. The solar farm produces enough power for 1000 homes, with about 7300MW of electricity produced annually. This project from developer Eastland Generation spans 6.1 hectares equipped with 8000 bi-facial solar panels that produce energy for the Firstlight Network grid.

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