New Zealand’s largest photovoltaic power plant receives the green light

Construction is just months away for what’s slated to become the country’s largest solar farm, near Taup?.

Following a lengthy appeals process, Nova Energy chief executive Babu Bahirathan said all the consents required to develop its 400MW solar farm, to be known as Te R?hui, were now in hand.

Te R?hui will involve converting an existing 1022ha dairy farm – about 35km east of Taup? on State Highway 5 – into a solar farm with approximately 900,000 ground-mounted solar panels producing enough electricity to power 100,000 homes.

Construction is scheduled to start in the coming months, with the Taup? mayor and a neighbouring tavern looking forward to extra faces in the area.

Bahirathan said the project would create hundreds of local jobs during construction and valuable training opportunities in the burgeoning solar sector.

Te R?hui is being built in two stages, Bahirathan said, and while awaiting the Environment Court’s decision Nova Energy was able to select contractors, undertake site investigation work, and do grid connections.

“The location of the site is advantageous, being on a 220kV grid connection with land and grid capacity to, in time, host a large grid-scale battery system, which will improve grid security.”

As the solar plant is built, dairy operations will be phased out and sheep will be introduced to the site to maintain the land post-construction, “ensuring a harmonious balance between renewable energy production and agricultural practices”.

Federated Farmers Rotorua/Taup? provincial president Colin Guyton said the organisation was “neutral” about the development.

“Yes, there are some who are disappointed we will lose good dairy land, but we do understand that getting good quality renewable energy is also important.

“I can see both sides of the story … it does appear there are quite a few solar farms popping up around the country and we hope they are not all using good farm land.

“But, this project seems to tick all the boxes from the solar point of view … it’s very close to the national grid.”

Taup? mayor David Trewavas welcomed the news and said he was excited about further job opportunities for locals as the district solidified its reputation as the country’s powerhouse for renewable energy.

“We now supply well over 20% of New Zealand’s renewable energy, and that’s good for everyone in the country.

“The guys up at the Rangit?iki Tavern will be happy to hear this too, having gone though some very tough times.”

Rangit?iki Tavern co-owner Aaron Inwood said the project would help keep their business going.

“It’s quite exciting actually … and it will have a few bonuses for the area.

“I’m assuming we can fill our accommodation for a few years with some workers – so we have our fingers crossed there – and hopefully there will be a few lunches and breakfasts going on,” he said.

Bahirathan said the site’s name, Te R?hui, was selected by mana whenua in honour of a treasured ancestor and chief, and embodies the traditional M?ori practice of r?hui, which focuses on the preservation, protection and reservation of nature’s bounty.

He said Nova Energy had started a biodiversity protection and enhancement programme at Te R?hui, with a focus on restoring wetlands and tributaries.

“In 2023, a 7.4ha area was fenced, and 40,000 native plants were planted by local tangata whenua businesses, with species selected in consultation with local tangata whenua, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, and the Department of Conservation.

“The naming of the solar project as Te R?hui reflects our deep respect for the land and the people of this region. It is a symbol of our commitment to sustainable development and our responsibility towards future generations,” Bahirathan said.