District council backs plans for $5.5m Carterton solar park

Solar energy is environmentally friendly and the technology is advancing rapidly.
Justin McManus

Solar energy is environmentally friendly and the technology is advancing rapidly.

A new solar energy co-op could save members up to 50 per cent on their yearly electricity costs.  

The community-owned solar farm co-op planned for Carterton will be the first of its kind in Australasia, with Carterton District Council saying they could supply the land for the site.

The park would need about 6000 one metre by 500 centimetre panels along with a large shipping container sized battery for power storage with the total cost expected to be $5.5 to $6 million. 

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Energy Democracy chairwoman Shelley Major said the co-op  was about making green energy more accessible to lower-income earners, and meant people  could access solar power from a fixed point regardless of where they lived.

Members would have access to the solar park through the national grid and would get electricity at a wholesale price. The co-op would need at least 200 members and the Carterton park could take up to 600. 

 Members could save up to 50 per cent on their power bills or more depending on the amount of investment.

Wairarapa's average 2008 sunshine hours were more than enough to make the park viable with newer solar tech more reliant on radiation itself than just sunshine.   

An added attraction was that members were shareholders, which created a legal requirement for transparency.  

Major said it meant effective, emission-free energy would be available for renters, householders and business owners who wished to make the initial investment, which was expected to be under $10,000. 

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"The savings over time will pay back the investment and people can choose to invest more if they wish. In some ways it is like a power company that is owned by its members.

"There are substantial savings to be made, which is why Carterton District Council is so interested. For me as a Wairarapa resident it is exciting to see this sort of world-leading innovation being embraced here.

"Wineries and farms in Wairarapa could save substantial money and also benefit from creating their product in an emission-free way. This park could potentially be the first of a few around the region."

Council planning and regulatory manager Dave Gittings described the district council power bill as "frightening".

"We are a really big user of electricity and this scheme could save the council and the ratepayer a substantial amount per year. We are running a cost  benefit analysis but are very interested in the project.  

"We already have a potential site on the land around the wastewater treatment facility on Dalefield Road,  so it is something we are taking seriously." 

Australia-based Energy Democracy director Alan Major said the recent Paris Climate Change Conference had seen a shift away from emissions trading toward actual localised efforts at reducing carbon emissions.

"Councils and district authorities all over the world are interested in ideas like this because they are a way of making a difference on the ground.

"Energy Democracy manages the solar park on behalf of the co-operative. It actively helps members to understand how they are using energy so they can be more efficient.

"People don't need a roof to participate. The technology is advancing so rapidly in solar that things are changing all the time, the components that we are planning to use now may have evolved by the time building starts."

* More info can be found here http://www.ed-co-op.com/ 

 - Stuff

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