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Approval granted for Waikato solar farm

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Harmony Energy New Zealand has been granted approval to develop a solar farm in the Waikato which will generate electricity to power 30,000 homes.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has approved Harmony’s proposal for approximately 330,000 solar panels to be installed on 182 hectares of a 260-hectare site at Te Aroha West.

The panels are expected to produce up to 147MW of power at peak times. All the electricity will flow directly into the national grid for use by homes and businesses.

 The land will remain in the ownership of Tauhei Farms Limited, with livestock grazing continuing with sheep, rather than the current dairy herd.

Harmony Energy builds, owns and operates wind, solar and battery energy storage assets to assist in the creation of renewable energy systems. It has successfully developed renewable projects across multiple technologies throughout the UK. The company has a long-standing relationship with Tesla, which has provided state-of-the-art battery systems for its UK sites.

Harmony director Pete Grogan says renewable energy is critical to mitigate the negative impact of climate change and help support New Zealand’s net zero ambitions.

“We are thrilled this important renewable development can now proceed.

“One of the great advantages of solar power is that it accommodates dual use of land, allowing for energy generation alongside continued farming production, as will happen at Tauhei. 

“This proposal also creates opportunities for local businesses and employment and creates significant biodiversity gains.

“We will deliver an exceptional project that the Waikato and Aotearoa can be proud of.”

Construction will get underway in 2024, with the solar farm operational in 2025.

The design of the solar farm will include the ecological restoration of a 6.9-hectare wetland area, incorporating boardwalks for scheduled educational visits from school students and community groups to learn about solar energy and biodiversity.

It will also include retention of roosting trees for native bats (pekapeka-tou-roa), extensive riparian planting and a network of indigenous species planted as biodiversity corridors for migration of local fauna species, including birds, skinks, geckos and insects, through the site. Planting will also screen solar panels from view.

“We have been speaking with iwi throughout the entire process to make sure we understand what is important to them and that our proposed ecological restoration is consistent with their aspirations,” Grogan says.

“We have placed cultural heritage at the heart of the design. That includes visual integration into the landscape, as well as improving water quality, biodiversity and ecology.”

All solar panels and other equipment will be significantly set back from surrounding roads. Solar panels are designed to absorb light and not to reflect it, so pose little risk of glint or glare. The panel array separation and height above ground will allow for continued pasture growth, with the benefit of shade and shelter for the sheep.

“We are particularly pleased the Expert Consenting Panel appointed by the EPA stated that its members have seldom observed a project that delivers such significant benefits with such comparatively few adverse effects,” Grogan says.

“The panel commended Harmony for the care it has taken in conceptualising the proposal for Tauhei.”

New Zealand born Grogan co-founded Harmony Energy in the UK and returned to New Zealand this year to establish the company’s New Zealand operation.

“I am committed to bringing the very best of what I have learned abroad back to New Zealand.

“Solar farm project developers from all over the world are here now, and in the coming months the EPA and local authorities will be asked to decide on dozens of applications – in fact, far more solar farms will be proposed than New Zealand actually needs.

“As a country, we should only accept projects which are sensitively located, respect cultural heritage and freely offer significant gains for native fauna and flora.

“Our transition to net-zero is vitally important, however, well thought-through solar farms can offer so much more than just clean energy.

“All project proposals should therefore be closely scrutinised on the basis of location, cultural heritage and ecological enhancement. Tauhei intentionally sets a high bar for consenting and I hope all project developers will rise to the challenge.”

In addition to Tauhei, Harmony Energy has a pipeline of over 500 MW of projects planned for New Zealand.

“The location and capacity of all its projects will be revealed by Transpower’s new Connection Management Framework, which Harmony Energy welcomes,” he says

Projects like Tauhei require the support of a wide range of organisations and groups, and Grogan says Harmony is grateful for the support received from so many talented people passionate about New Zealand’s transition to net zero.

“I would like to thank all those who have helped get it this far including Tauhei Farms Limited, iwi (Ngaati Whanaunga, Ngāti Tumutumu Iwi Trust and Ngāti Hauā Iwi Trust), the Ministry for the Environment, the EPA, Transpower, Matamata Piako District Council, supportive local residents and our key professional advisers (4Sight Consulting, PSC Consulting, Tompkins Wake LLP and GreenEnco).”

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