A wave of solar generation is expected over the next few years, with a dramatic rise in large-scale sites seeking resource consent throughout 2022. Many developers plan to break ground in the coming months and be operational in 2023. In the past 12 months, at least eight companies released plans for large-scale solar sites -many of them existing dairy farms.
The impetus for solar has ramped up as new entrant firms look to seize opportunities opening up as New Zealand strives to meet the 100 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2030 target. The growing pipeline of projects promises to play a significant role in meeting that goal. However, investment in other renewable sources, including wind, geothermal and potentially pumped hydro, is also required.
The Electricity Authority in July noted that solar developments make up 78 per cent of actively pursued projects, by generation volume, that could be completed by 2025.
Solar Farming New Zealand
Most of the large-scale sites being planned are currently used for dairy farming. Installing solar will require a transition to away from larger animals, with most planning to graze sheep around the arrays.
Alongside this transition, farmers will reduce or eliminate fertiliser and irrigation on the land around the solar panels, which is presented as an environmental benefit in many consent applications.
Additionally, solar developers have been proactive in detailing planting plans to help regenerate indigenous species and restore wetlands and waterways.
As we look back on 2022, My Solar Quotes has compiled a list of publicly reported projects that are likely to be built between now and 2025.
Channel Infrastructure: Consented 27 MW, Maranga Ra, Marsden Point, Northland
Channel Infrastructure, the owner of the Marsden Point fuel import terminal in Northland, has consent to build a 27 MW solar farm next to the former refinery site. The project was developed by Refining New Zealand, which expected solar to provide up to 10 per cent of its electricity needs when it was an operational fuel refinery.
Following the disestablishment of the refinery business, Channel Infrastructure is looking to secure its long-term electricity requirements, which may involve the development of the Maranga Ra solar project.
Christchurch Airport, Solar Bay – Planned 150 MW - Kōwhai Park, Christchurch
Christchurch Airport has plans underway to develop the Kōwhai Park energy hub. The airport has partnered with Australian developer Contact Energy and Lightsource bp to install 150 MW of photovoltaic panels on land adjacent to the runway. The staged development could double that capacity over time.
The concept is to also develop a hub for complementary technologies and businesses, including green hydrogen generation and battery or alternative storage solutions.
The airport – which is 75 per cent owned by Christchurch City Council – is already certified as climate positive and is on track to be carbon-zero before 2050. It hopes Kōwhai Park will help others to also transition. The firm envisages the first phase of Kōwhai Park’s solar array will be completed in 2025.
Harmony Energy New Zealand: Consented 147 MW, Te Aroha, Waikato
Harmony Energy is a Yorkshire-based independent developer of utility-scale renewable energy assets. It has developed solar, wind and battery energy storage systems in the UK and France and is now working towards building a 147 MW solar farm in Waikato.
In September, Harmony gained Environmental Protection Authority approval to build the Tauhei solar farm near Te Aroha that could power 30,000 homes at peak times.
Helios Energy: Planned 115 MW, Edgecumbe, Whakatāne. Planned 100 MW Greytown, Wairarapa
In August, Helios announced an agreement to export solar electricity to the national grid from a site near Transpower’s Edgecumbe substation. Once complete, it will generate enough clean electricity for approximately 25,000 homes.
Helios plans to file a resource consent application with Whakatāne District Council in the coming months.
Helios also plans a 190-ha solar farm in Greytown, having signed a 35-year lease with a farmer in August. The firm is expected to submit a resource consent application to the South Wairarapa District Council in 2023.
HES Aotearoa: Total planned 350 MW, consented 50 MW, Lauriston, mid-Canterbury
HES is a joint venture of UK grid-scale solar developers Hive Energy, Ethical Power and Solar South West. It has committed to developing 350 MW of utility-scale solar assets in New Zealand.
In June, the JV gained land use consent to construct a 50 MW solar farm in Lauriston, mid-Canterbury.
At the end of 2022, Selwyn District Council is processing a consent application for a site near Dunsandel.
In the Auckland region, HES is seeking resource consent for a 50 MW solar farm in Helensville, northwest of the city. The notified consent is yet to be heard.
Hive Energy, which has completed 40-plus renewable projects in the UK, Europe, Türkiye, and South America, lists a pipeline of New Zealand JV projects. These include 24 MW at Clandeboye in Canterbury, 20 MW at Bunnythorpe near Palmerston North, 14 MW at Te Toke and 62 MW at Gift Farm – both in the South Island.
Infratec NZ: Consented 4.37 MW, Naumai Solar Farm, Dargaville
Infratec NZ purchased the Naumai Solar Farm Project from Lightyears Solar in May 2022.
The firm says the 4.37 MW utility-scale solar site near Ruawai is “shovel ready” with resource consent from Kaipara District Council already granted to Lightyears.
Kea Energy: Generating - 2.2 MW, Wairau Valley, Marlborough. Seeking consent - 160 MW, Leeston, Canterbury
In 2021, Kea Energy completed its first 2.2 MW solar farm in the Wairau Valley.
The family-owned solar firm now seeks to build a 160 MW site on two dairy farms near its Leeston home base. Kea says construction would be carried out in stages over three years.
In December 2022, its subsidiary KeaX lodged a resource consent application with Selwyn District Council. It also plans to apply for earthworks consent from Environment Canterbury.
Kiwi Solar Farms: 28 MW, Palmerston North
Kiwi Solar Farms is planning a solar farm which will power up to 5,000 homes in Manawatū. It will install 45,000 solar panels on the 45-ha site.
In September, the firm said it was consulting with iwi and the community, ahead of a resource consent application. It expects to start construction late in 2023, completing in 2024.
Lightyears Solar: Total consented 6.7 MW, Applying for 4.5 MW
Founded in 2019, Lightyears Solar intends to build a 200 MW portfolio of distribution network-connected solar around the country.
It is planning to begin building the 4.4 MW Komata North Solar Farm, near Paeroa, Waikato.
Having gained resource consent for this project in 2021, the firm says construction will begin in early 2023, with commercial operation scheduled for later in the year.
In October, Lightyears also gained consent on its Morley Road Solar Farm project – a 2.3 MW site in Waiuku, south of Auckland. The firm expects that site to be generating by winter 2023.
Lightyears is also seeking consent for the 4.5 MW Waharoa Solar Farm near Matamata. It expects construction to begin in 2023.
Lodestone Energy: Total consented 229 MW
Lodestone Energy has resource consents for five sites in the North Island. In 2021, Lodestone said these would total 229 MW of generation once constructed. Work on its first site near Kaitaia began in late 2022 and will be generating by the third quarter of next year.
Lodestone is also ready to roll out four other consented sites in the next two years: Dargaville, Waiotahe Valley east of Whakatāne, Edgecumbe and Whitianga.
Managing director Gary Holden says, “our first five farms will generate enough energy to power 50,000 homes or a city the size of Hamilton”.
The cost of building the five sites, about $300 million, is being supported by financing from Westpac New Zealand, with the firms having reached an agreement in 2021.
Meridian Energy: 130 MW plus 100 MW battery energy storage system, Ruākākā Energy Park, Marsden Point, Northland
Meridian Energy purchased 105 hectares at Marsden Point in 2021 for the Ruākākā Energy Park. It plans to build a grid-scale 125 MW solar farm and install a battery energy storage system of at least 100 MW.
On December 15, 2022, Meridian confirmed it will move ahead with the battery storage part of the project in the first quarter of 2023. In an investor presentation, it said the BESS will improve the economics of a solar farm, which would be done in a later stage.
Meridian says as the electricity system in Aotearoa moves towards fully renewable generation, grid-scale storage will become necessary for peak demand periods with little sun or wind availability.
Saft, a French industrial battery specialist, is contracted to supply, install and commission the battery and the operational services for the Ruakākā BESS. Meridian Energy expects the project will be completed in the second half of 2024.
Nova Energy: Generating 2.1 MW, Kapuni, Taranaki. Consented: 400 MW, Rangitāiki, Taupō
Nova Energy completed its 2.1 MW Kapuni solar farm in 2021. In November, it gained resource consent for a solar farm southwest of Taupō. With 900,000 panels, it will provide clean and affordable energy for up to 35,000 homes once completed. The Todd Corporation-owned company will build the solar farm in three stages, subject to its final investment decision.
Sky Solar: Consented 100 MW, Ongaonga, Hawke’s Bay
Sky Solar gained consent in July 2022 for a solar farm in Central Hawke’s Bay. It says the project will take advantage of the region’s annual 1,700 solar hours. The site is also conveniently located to existing electricity transmission infrastructure, enabling electricity generated to be distributed into the local or national transmission grid.
Sky Solar plans to begin installation work in 2023. Director Cameron King says the Ongaonga site will have an operational capacity of up to 170 GWh per year, enough to power 18,000 houses. The firm now has a connection agreement with Transpower and is finalising the design and placing orders.
Waikato Solar Farms: Fast Track application 140 MW, Waiterimu, Waikato
Waikato Solar Farms will seek Environmental Protection Authority approval for a 140-MW solar farm in Waiterimu, about 20 kilometres northwest of Huntly.
In December 2022, the firm gained permission to apply for Covid-19 Fast Track Consenting Act approval, previously utilised by Harmony Energy for its Tauhei Solar Farm.
Waikato Solar Farms notes the site is close to transmission infrastructure and will help reduce nutrient run-off into the Lake Waikare catchment.
The firm is a subsidiary Island Green Power, which has developed more than 900 MW of projects throughout the United Kingdom, Australia and Spain.