NZ-funded solar facility opens in Tonga

PALOMA MIGONE IN TONGA
Last updated 14:45 24/07/2012
PMurray McCully
Paloma Migone

CLOSE TIES: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully with Tongan King Tupou VI at the official opening of the Maama Mai Solar Generation Facility.

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A New Zealand-funded solar power facility aimed at saving Tonga $600,000 in diesel costs is the first of many to come in the Pacific, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says.

Officially opened by King Tupou VI during a ceremony this morning, the Maama Mai plant was built to help reduce Tonga's dependence on fossil fuels.

The facility was already showing results, with Tongan Government announcing a fall in power prices for Tongans from August 1.

''I don't think this is the last dollar we are going to be spending in renewable energy in Tonga,'' McCully said.

''Diesel is such an expensive commodity here that moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy is much more viable."

Tonga was consuming about 30 million litres of diesel a year - or an average of one litre every two seconds.

The solar plant would help Tonga save 470,000 litres of diesel annually for 25 years by providing about one megawatt of electricity per year.

The Tongan Government didn't want to stop there. Tongan's Minister for Public Enterprises, William Clive Edwards, said he wanted 50 per cent of the country's energy to come from renewable sources.

''The ultimate objective is for the people to access an energy source that is clean, safe and cheap,'' he said.

''Despite the very ambitious goal set, the Government and its development partners are fully committed to them.''

Tonga Power chief executive John van Brink said it was not an ''inspirational'' goal.

''We've got the plant in place'' he said.

He said the move to renewable energy would see an increase of power consumption and give some Tongans the ability to afford freezers and air conditioning, for example.

The plant was originally going to be funded by Tonga Power and the Tongan Government, but the World Bank said Tonga could not borrow any more funds.

The New Zealand Government stepped in and covered the $7.9 million cost.

The plant was a collaborative effort by Tonga Power and Meridian Energy.

McCully said the new power plant showed other Pacific governments that a switch to renewable energy could be done.

New Zealand has already started talks with potential investors in the European Union and Asian Development Bank, he said.

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