Meat & Livestock News

Solar Farming in Waipara: A Sustainable Future

In Waipara, a local farmer, Tom Kidner, is set to transform 200 hectares of his land into an “Agri-voltaic” solar power plant. This initiative promises a stable income source for his business over the next three decades. 

Kidner’s primary motivations are diversifying his farm’s revenue and actively contributing to New Zealand’s efforts to reduce emissions.

Despite being one of the driest regions in North Canterbury with no irrigation prospects, Kidner’s farm has potential for solar energy. 

A study from Massey University revealed that areas between solar panel rows produced almost 40% more grass than those without intermittent shading. The design of the solar panels will enable Kidner to maintain roughly 80% of his sheep and lamb operations, utilising the spaces under and between the panel rows. 

Kidner believes that the shading benefits from the panels could significantly enhance the site’s overall productivity, especially with the anticipated increase in droughts due to climate change.

The solar installation will span approximately 4km along the northern side of State Highway 7, near the Waipara township, leading towards Hanmer Springs and Lewis Pass. 

While some might view the installation as a visual disturbance along a popular tourist route, Kidner sees it as a natural evolution of land use, especially in an area already marked by numerous vineyards. To mitigate visual concerns, there are plans to plant trees extensively to obscure the solar panels.

The project is a collaboration between Auckland’s Far North Solar Farm Ltd (FNSF) and its international investors, Aquila Clean Energy Asia Pacific. John Telfer, FNSF’s Chief Executive, mentioned that community consultations are in progress, and technical studies to evaluate the feasibility of the agri-voltaic model will soon be concluded. 

The farm’s location was strategically chosen due to its proximity to the Waipara substation, facilitating easy access to the Transpower network.

With a peak output of 135MWp, the 200-hectare solar farm is projected to produce sufficient clean electricity for around 28,000 households. Data from various sources, including MBIE and Massey University, estimate that the Waipara installation will generate approximately 213 GWh annually. 

If channelled to electric vehicles, this energy could offset the yearly emissions of nearly 14,000 petrol-driven cars.

Telfer emphasised that Agri-Voltaics is a prevalent practice internationally, offering a sustainable dual-use solution for agricultural lands, especially in drought-prone areas like North Canterbury. He also highlighted that while New Zealand’s renewable energy share is commendable globally, the nation still relies on fossil fuels for nearly 20% of its electricity consumption.