Largest yet solar farm approved by expert panel

Fri Feb. 9th 2024

Sue Simons chaired an Expert Panel which granted consents for the project in the North Waikato region.

Sue Simons recently chaired an Expert Panel, convened under the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Act 2020 (FTCA), to consider an application for the largest yet solar farm in New Zealand.

The Panel also comprised expert planning consultant, Cherie Lane; ecology specialist, Dr Ngaire Phillips; and iwi consultant, Maxine Moana-Tuwhangai.

Waerenga Solar Farm Ltd and Transpower NZ Ltd sought consent to generate 190 megawatts of electricity from approximately 304,000 solar panels (and associated infrastructure) situated on 385ha in the North Waikato region.

Aside from the project delivering very positive benefits in terms of renewable energy generation, the intention of the applicants was to retire the land from dairying and replace with an array of elevated solar panels that enabled sheep grazing beneath the panels. There would therefore be positive ecological effects to water quality and ecological enhancements.

The key issues in contention related to the application of the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land 2022, the project's creation of employment in regard to meeting the FTCA purpose, and landscape and visual effects on surrounding property owners and occupiers.

The project obtained full support from local iwi and the District and Regional Councils.

The Panel reached the conclusion, after exhaustive consideration and receipt of advice from appointed experts on the issues of contention, that the resource consents applied for, subject to comprehensive conditions, could be granted.

Sue observed, "This was a fascinating, albeit intense, process. I found working with a team of remarkable experts on a project with many novel aspects, and with a somewhat ruthless timeframe, very rewarding. Enabling the provision of a large renewable energy source to be established is of national significance."

Subject to any appeals to the High Court, Waerenga Solar Farm Ltd and Transpower NZ Ltd can commence implementation of the consents granted.

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