Solar Farms on Council Land


Whakatane District Council (WDC) have a Climate Change Policy. In 2020 a presentation was made inviting Council to use some of its facilities to install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to demonstrate its commitment. Three years late in 2023 a Solar Feasibility Scoping Study was presented where potential sites for PV installations were evaluated.

Climate change is a threat to the planet. It is recognised that there is a cost involved in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The Emsol study indicated that at least six sites would not be a cost but could be viewed as an investment. Council could make money for ratepayers and address climate change commitments.

Our local investment guru Brent Sheather’s interest was sufficiently peeked to publish two articles laying out the risks involved in trying to calculate a return over a long time frame. He also identified WDC’s  “strong balance sheet” that “could potentially fund the solar energy project from its own resources”. Further, “they could apply excess earnings to reducing rates”.

This comment was relevant as there has been internal bickering over whether or not WDC should take out a loan to cover cost blowouts rather than hit ratepayers with a 9.25% rate increase. The Mayor hinted that WDC could actually make money arbitraging inflation and the low-interest rate [add quote from Beacon]. Brent’s opinion on this would be useful.

The author of the 2020 presentation has since gone cold on the 7 MW Airport solar farm because of costs to install transmission lines and the announcement of more than two utility-scale, >30MW, farms nearby. If however, Council included a development plan of the site to consume the energy generated then the proposal would change dramatically. More on the benefits of self-consumption and an Airport Development Plan in a post to follow.

The Solar Feasibility Scoping Study:

Significant pieces of data were left out preventing comment on some of the conclusions. As it was a level 1 feasibility, perhaps this is excusable.

“Innovation and benefits” to the community deserved more attention. WDC were originally asked to demonstrate how ratepayers (consumers) could benefit from learnings. Farms are 1/2 the cost to install compared to householders installing rooftop solar. Could any WDC installs be scaled to say a farm near Ruatoki designed to reduce community electricity costs optimising self-consumption which is more valuable than exporting to the grid? How could individual households inside the farm meter optimise their usage to times when rates are low? Using smart Hot Water thermostats and charging Electric Vehicles (EVs) when the sun is shining multiplies the benefits. How dumping large volumes of excess solar onto the low voltage grid has a negative impact unless the farm recipients and Horizon Energy work together to mitigate. More on these subjects in a post (Home Energy Management Systems) to follow.

Installing solar on the roof of the Aquatic Center was included. In their 2019 Energy Audit, Emsol recommended heat pumps were more cost effective. This author concurs, despite being an advocate for solar PV. WDC have still not decommissioned the gas boilers which cost more to operate than heat pumps, pollute the environment and defy their climate change policy. Why?

Next Steps:

WDC  have not indicated what they plan to do with this study. It took 3 years to get to this stage. WDC appears to be a laggard and their Climate Change Committee is greenwashing.

Consumers of electricity (read ratepayers and voters) need WDC support influencing Horizon Energy, industry players and government to accelerate NZ’s transition to renewable energy. Table 8.4 showed WDC Time of Use (TOU)  electricity prices that would be valuable to consumers wishing to buy electricity at low prices and avoid high price periods. This would assist Horizon to avoid peaks that stress their (our) Low Voltage (LV) network. Would the retailer be prepared to extend these pricing structures to the rest of us? An important first step in modifying consumer behaviour to benefit all.

We welcome your comments on how we should proceed.


Solar Feasibility Scoping Study for WDC, Emsol, 20 Feb 2023

Energy Audit, Emsol 2019

Energy Audit, Emsol, 2022

Beacon article, Brent Sheather, 23 June 2023 and ? July 2023

Beacon Opinion, Mayor Luca, 23 June 2023??

Community Solar Farm for Whakatane, Luca and Weston, 8 April 2020

Airport Industrial Park Proposal, WDC, ?? 1990