New Zealand's largest solar farm approved by expert consenting panel

Fri Sept. 23rd 2022

A panel of experts chaired by Simon Berry has given the go-ahead for a major new renewables development in the Waikato.

An expert consenting panel convened under the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-Track Consenting) Act 2020 has approved what will be New Zealand’s largest solar farm. The panel was chaired by Simon Berry and also comprised specialist resource management lawyer and Waikato Regional Council and Matamata-Piako District Council nominee Paul Cooney and iwi consultant and Waikato-Tainui nominee Steven (Tipene) Wilson.

The project involves the establishment by Harmony Energy New Zealand Limited of a large solar farm on 260ha of farmland at Tauhei, Te Aroha West. Approximately 330,000 solar panels with a maximum capacity of 147MW of electricity will occupy 180ha of the site. The electricity generated is expected to power approximately 30,000 New Zealand homes.

Aside from renewable energy generation, the project will deliver local ecological benefits by retiring two dairy farms, restoring a 6.9ha wetland and 4.8ha of riparian areas, and establishing boundary planting and biodiversity corridors over an area of 14.9ha.

The project received considerable support, including from Ngāti Hauā, the Pare Hauraki Collective, Minister for Climate Change Hon. James Shaw and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Hon. Kiri Allan.

Key local concerns related to effects on rural character and amenity, including residential amenity, particularly those arising from the glint and glare associated with a large area of glass and aluminium. The panel found that these effects will be minor and within four years will be completely removed by screen planting.

The panel ultimately considered that there would be significant benefits in terms of renewable energy generation and ecological enhancement and that potential adverse effects were either minor or could be appropriately addressed by way of management plans or consent conditions.

In its decision the panel commended Harmony Energy for the manner in which it had conceptualised the project and stated, “... its members have seldom observed a Project that delivers such significant benefits with such comparatively few adverse effects.” 

“I enjoyed chairing a clever panel with excellent support from the EPA,” says Simon Berry. “There is clearly good potential for solar energy in New Zealand and I would expect to see more applications of this magnitude in appropriate locations which, like this one, will assist to achieve the objectives of the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Generation.”

Unless there is an appeal to the High Court, Harmony Energy is now free to start the project.

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