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Integrated solar and agricultural farm planned for Rangitīkei

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The farm will use an agri-voltaics model so a farmer will also be able to run sheep underneath. Photo / Far North Solar Farm

By Monique Steele, RNZ

A new solar farm project has been given the green light to be built in the small Rangitīkei town of Marton.

Developer Far North Solar Farm gained resource consent to build the 38-hectare solar farm on a sheep farm.

The company was planning the construction and financing of the 40 megawatt-peak farm which it said could generate electricity for about 7800 homes once completed.

It is planned to start on the project later this year.

Integrated solar and agricultural farms was a great way for farmers to generate income through leasehold arrangements, Far North Solar Farm spokesperson Greg Hay said.

“The panels will be on a fixed tilt design, which means that they’ll be fixed to the ground, and face north, and the farmer will still be able to run sheep underneath, so it’s an agri-voltaics model, so it really is another case of diversifying land use within a rural environment.”

It was the company’s fifth solar farm development with resource consents granted nationwide.

It was building a solar farm in Pukenui in the Far North, another one at Edgecumbe in Bay of Plenty, and had two more approved in Waiotahe and Foxton – while three applications were pending, including a large 420 mega-watt-peak farm in the Mackenzie Basin.

Hay said it showed solar projects were gaining momentum.

“New Zealanders are becoming more and more familiar with the technology and with the concept and with, I believe, the need to actually create more renewable electricity,” he said.

“Solar is a technology that has been under-utilised in this country and we’re really starting to see it take off.”

And it was not the only solar farm in the pipeline for Marton. There are two more solar farm projects being considered under the fast-track consenting process – decided independent of council, by central government.

Rangitīkei Mayor Andy Watson said the district was attractive to renewable energy companies as land was affordable and the national transmission lines ran straight through it.

But he said the right balance must be struck when it came to building solar farms and protecting productive farmland, although it was becoming difficult to juggle central and local government policies, he said.

“We have a number of companies looking to establish wind and solar farms in our district,” Watson said.

“It’s interesting to me that some of these applications are being dealt with by our normal consenting process through council, and some are being called in by Government, so effectively we will not be the decision-makers. So there’s two processes that are not quite in sync with each other.”

Watson said it would be better if one process was used for all solar farm consents.

He said some of the government policy statements were even in contest with each other.

“The first government policy statement is the need for alternative clean energy solutions, which we’ll of course support. But the second one that it would be possibly in contest would be the maintaining class one, two and three soils for productive agricultural use.”

The council was in favour of fast-track consenting to reduce “incredibly frustrating” delays, Watson said, but the district wanted a say on projects too.


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