Off-the-grid property left powerless after thieves steal solar panels

Lifestyle block owner Adrian Mourie with the damaged solar panel array on his property near Manakau, north of Otaki. ...
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

Lifestyle block owner Adrian Mourie with the damaged solar panel array on his property near Manakau, north of Otaki. Thieves stole 11 of the 18 panels powering work on two houses being renovated.

An off-the-grid lifestyle block has been left powerless after thieves stole about $25,000 worth of solar panels during last week's storms.

Eleven panels, batteries and a controller were stolen from the property in Manakau, north of Otaki, on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

As the night's storm kept neighbours inside, the thieves snipped wires, unbolted the panels and swiped the batteries from a large platform and a nearby shed.

The thieves stole the panels and batteries during the storm on Wednesday night last week.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

The thieves stole the panels and batteries during the storm on Wednesday night last week.

They even found a hidden trailer and used it to drive off with their wares.

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Owner Adrian Mourie and wife Robyn were in Fiji, combining a holiday with charitable work helping to provide equipment for people with disabilities.

Thieves snipped the wires connecting the solar panels.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

Thieves snipped the wires connecting the solar panels.

The first Adrian knew about the incident was when neighbours told him the panels must have been blown away in the storm.

At first he felt bad, fearing the panels could have damaged neighbouring properties. Then on Sunday he found the cut wires.

"I just felt sick ... it's not just the fact they've been taken, but you just don't feel safe any more."

Mourie said the solar system cost about $25,000 to install. The thieves also pinched a $5000 trailer to carry the stolen ...
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

Mourie said the solar system cost about $25,000 to install. The thieves also pinched a $5000 trailer to carry the stolen goods away.

He said the 18-panel system cost about $25,000 to install and had been powering work on the two houses for about six months.

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The Mouries went solar after they were told it would cost about $10,000 to connect to the grid. They planned to back up the system with hydro power from a nearby river.

Nick Freeman, managing director of Wellington business SkySolar, said the thieves could potentially use the stolen components to produce their own power for free.

One of the solar panels left behind.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

One of the solar panels left behind.

"They could set it up on their own property ... they would require some technical knowledge to do that."

They would also need to be frugal to exist entirely off the stolen system.

As of mid-May, the average New Zealand home consumed about $6 of power a day, he said. The Mouries' 18-panel array could probably support about a quarter of that. 

Police confirmed they were investigating the theft in North Manakau Rd, and would like to hear from anyone who may have witnessed it.

"Police have not received any reports of solar theft in the area recently, but remind residents to take precautionary measures, including securing their property and keeping valuable items out of sight."

Kristin Gillies, of the Sustainable Electricity Association New Zealand, said it was the first case of a stolen solar power system he had heard of.

Mourie said the solar panel system was insured, but the trailer was not, and would cost upwards of $5000 to replace.

The trailer came with a cage, and had a dented left front draw bar, with the registration number H673W

Mourie said he would now probably set up an alarm system on the property, and any replacement panels might go on the roof of one of the houses.

Police asked anyone with information on the theft to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

 - Stuff

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