Council's solar farm ready to feed grid

19:00, Feb 20 2014
Solar panels
READY TO GO: Chris Kohlmann, information services manager here from Iowa on a local government exchange, looks out over the solar panels on the roof of the council's building.

Palmerston North's solar farm is ready to go live today.

One of those watching the finishing touches to preparation of the 400-panel, 100kW farm on the roofs of the civic administration building and convention centre was a United States information services manager, Chris Kohlmann.

The connection between the two is about local government working to make communities more sustainable.

Ms Kohlmann is in Palmerston North as part of an exchange programme run by the Society of Local Government Managers NZ and the International City/County Management Association.

Her visit follows council policy analyst Peter Ridge's visit to the city of Dubuque in Iowa last year.

Her specialty is turning data into useful information that helps citizens change their lives and habits for the better.


With an academic grounding in mathematics and computer science, she has struck up a liaison with IBM, using technology to provide information for the city that is also useful to individuals.

The Smarter Cities projects have included tracking water and electricity use, transportation, rubbish and recycling, and health.

She said looking at the information from different directions gave city managers an insight into what services were needed at a community level, and allowed individuals to understand how their behaviour affected their health and expenses. The drivers for the projects were both environmental and economic.

"We are drowning in data. The key is how we turn it into meaningful information.

"And if we don't take this sustainable approach to our communities, there won't be much left for our children and grandchildren." While Mr Ridge is keen to learn more about the use of data, Ms Kohlmann said she was interested in the way New Zealand councils were more proactive in going out to engage with their communities.

"We tend to expect people to come to us."

The Powersmart NZ solar farm development was one way in which the council was leading by example in adopting more sustainable technologies.

The solar farm would generate not quite enough energy to power the council building when its occupants were at rest, said energy officer John Debney. "But it's more than just a token gesture.

"It is a start."

So long as inspectors gave the installation the all-clear yesterday, the $200,000 farm was expected to start feeding power into the building's supply today, denting its $173,000 a year power bill.

Manawatu Standard