Future of some farms may be paddocks with grazing animals and solar panels



Sheep would be able to graze beneath the solar panels that were installed on a Waikato farm, a spokesperson for Harmony Energy said. Photo / Karl-Friedrich Hohl

By Sally Wenley of RNZ

Many rural landscapes will change – from acres of grazing cattle and crops – to paddocks of solar panels.

Yesterday, a UK-based company, Harmony Energy, was given approval to install about 330,000 energy-producing panels on a farm in Waikato.

At the same time, there has been a huge hike in inquiries from companies wanting to “grow” more sustainable electricity generation throughout the country, but not everyone is impressed.

National power grid operator Transpower says solar farms will be a big part of the country’s future electricity generation.

Spokeswoman Chantelle Bramley said up to 2019 it got between five and to 10 inquiries from potential green power generators wanting to connect each year, but over the past year that had shot up to 120.

About three-quarters of these were about solar generation, Bramley said.

Many would not be built because of obstacles such as getting the land, the finance or consents, she said.

The demand for renewable energy was growing as electricity use increased, for example, through electric cars, Bramley said.

She warned that though solar energy was reasonably cheap to generate, household power bills would not drop but remain relatively flat.

The biggest grid-connected solar power plant is at Kapuni in South Taranaki and the district council’s Scott Wilson said it provided enough renewable energy for more than 500 houses.

There were 5800 panels that weighed about 30kg and each was mounted about half a metre above ground level, he said.

Several more solar farm proposals were currently being considered by the council and Wilson said he was not aware of any opposition.

Further north in Waikato, the Environmental Protection Authority has just granted approval for Harmony to build a large solar farm at Te Aroha West which will provide power to 30,000 homes.

Company founder Pete Grogen said sheep could graze underneath the panels, but not cattle, which the landowner supported.

Grogen believed solar panels were a better use of the land as there were enough dairy farms, and it was clean energy generation.

However, Federated Farmers spokesman Mark Hooper disagreed, and said land that produced food should be kept for just that.

He was worried that top quality dairy or cropping land would be covered in panels and there were better places to put them such as on the roofs of large warehouses or commercial buildings in the urban environment.

Solar panels in other countries like Australia and the United States were on infertile arid land, not the productive pastures being used in New Zealand, Hooper said.



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