12 May 2021

Solar power: Planned network will increase generation eight-fold - company

5:30 am on 12 May 2021

The country is to get its first significant solar power generation based in some of the North Island's sunniest centres.

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A concept image of one of the planned solar power stations. Photo: Supplied

Auckland-based Lodestone Energy is planning five solar power stations in the upper North Island, generating enough power for about 55,000 households - the equivalent of Hamilton.

The company has raised $300 million from private investors for the plants, which will be in Northland, the eastern Bay of Plenty, and Coromandel, generating 400 Gigawatt hours (GWh), with construction of the first one expected towards the end of the year.

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Gary Holden Photo: Supplied

Lodestone managing director Gary Holden a former head of power supplier Pulse, said the venture would increase the amount of solar power in the country eight-fold and fitted the drive for more renewable energy.

"Together, the five solar farms will act as one giant generation plant, using the power of the sun to inject sustainable renewable power into our electricity grid during the daytime and helping reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels."

He said the economics of solar power had improved markedly, and would rival the low costs of hydro and wind power, helping to put a further squeeze on thermal generation.

"Solar costs have fallen sharply in recent years and we are now at the point where grid-scale solar power, if well-located, is the most economic form of new electricity generation. Also, because it delivers power during the daytime period, it has the highest value to the market," Holden said.

The company has bought 500 hectares of largely farmland, and the half a million panels would be installed in such a way as to allow continued farming operations.

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Farming activities will continue while solar power is being generated. Photo: Supplied

The first plant will be near Kaitaia, with further sites at Dargaville, Whitianga, near Whakatāne, and Edgecumbe in what Holden called the country's sunbelt.

The power from the solar farms would be delivered directly to local electricity lines companies for local consumption. In the longer term there were plans to install storage batteries.

Holden said the solar farms would be a "game changer" for the electricity market, and the first five were all in regions where current transmission costs were quite high.

He said Lodestone aimed to ally with small retailers to offer power, and would resist moves by major gentailers (generator retailers) to absorb the company's output. Heavy industrial users were also potential customers.

He said Lodestone's entry into the market and future growth would be a shock to some market players.

"We will surprise those who have been pursuing wind and geothermal at the expense of solar because I think there's been a bit of a view that solar might be off in the distance, so we'll catch some people by surprise," Holden said.

He said another generator would help to bring some discipline to the electricity market and curb behaviour and complaints that the major companies have been manipulating the market at the expense of consumers.

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