Edgecumbe farmers say large scale solar farms on some of the Rangitaiki Plains’ most elite soil is shortsighted.
Six neighbouring landowners, who submitted to a recent resource consent hearing, are opposed to Helios Energy building a 115MW solar farm in the Bay of Plenty.
Whakatāne District Council has granted consent to the solar farm, which is planned on 207 hectares of farmland on McLean Road, leased from Brady Land Company.
Glare from the solar panels, noise from cooling fans, power lines interrupting views and disruption caused by construction were among the farmers' concerns.
The group also say resource consent will go against the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land, which protects the country's most fertile land.
However, the company says the solar farm will lead to a $150 million investment in the region and help meet the future powers needs of New Zealand.
But engineer and farm owner Peter Askey, whose property neighbours the site, questions why it needs to be built on good soil.
He describes the Paroa silt loam soil found throughout the Rangitaiki Plains, particularly in a zone through Edgecumbe, as among the most elite soil in the country.
The Edgecumbe substation sits in the middle of that land and has spare capacity, he says.
"So that makes it quite attractive for the solar industry.”
He says claims that it is the Whakatāne district’s high sunshine hours that attracted solar power companies are overstated.
"Sunshine is all over New Zealand and there’s nothing exceptional about the sun here. For them it’s all about proximity to the substation.
"If they go more than five, or maybe 10km at the outside, the cost of connecting in starts to get very large."
Neighbouring farmer Alan Law says there needs to be some “big picture” decisions made.
“The Paris Accord specifically states that new initiatives for climate change are not supposed to impact on food production.
"We’re not saying we don’t agree with green energy. That’s the future. But it’s got to be done sensibly.
Peter also recently made a submission to a Ministry for the Environment discussion document against allowing solar farms to be a permitted activity under the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land.
"It will be up to the new Government to decide which way to jump … to jump toward solar energy or toward soils.”
Helios Energy spokesperson Jonathan Hill says they are pleased the resouce consent has been granted.
This image of Putiki Road has had power pylons and wires digitally added to show how much of an impact they will have on the small rural road. Image supplied.
It will produce a $150 million investment in the region, generating between 200 to 250 jobs during construction and four or five full-time positions afterward, he says.
“We appreciate there will always be those who would prefer projects be built somewhere else, but the country needs well-designed new renewable energy projects in the right places to meet future energy requirements.
"Current forecasts from Transpower show 70 per cent more energy will be required by 2050, which is roughly the equivalent of a new Clyde Dam being built every year for the next 27 years."
He says the solar farm will be quiet, with largely native planting on boundaries to screen views of the solar panels.
“Over the past three years, Helios has engaged with mana whenua, district planners, regional planners, local government officials, neighbours and other stakeholders.
"In response to concerns voiced by neighbours, Helios redesigned the site layout, including adding significant setbacks, screening and relocating facilities.
Helios is progressing on detailed design of the transmission line to connect the site to the substation, says Jonathan.
“As required by the consent conditions, we will be establishing a community liaison role to ensure clear communication with neighbours and the local community throughout construction and operation of the solar farm.
“We are committed to being a good corporate citizen in the Edgecumbe-Whakatāne community."
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