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Wanted: Land for solar power project with a heart

A Waikato electricity retailer is looking for land so it can create its own source of solar power.

But the energy generated will be power for good - cut-price electricity for some of the region's poorest customers.

WEL Networks says it's looking for landowners willing to offer 10,000 to 20,000 square metres of north-facing land with reasonable access, so it can build a solar panel site.

The energy would feed into WEL's Our Power brand, which supplies cheaper power to customers struggling to get on their financial feet.

Michelle Allfrey, WEL's general manager of community engagement, says Our Power works alongside community groups to provide wraparound assistance to those in hardship, offering power at 23c per kilowatt hour compared to the market rate of 27c.

"The spot price has been quite volatile recently which means the cost to serve our customers is quite considerable, so if we can have our own generation, that effectively makes it a known quantity of payment that we're making."

The land that WEL is seeking could be agreggated rather than all in one place. Ten thousand square metres was the minimum, "because you want economies of scale and the cost to install is too high to make it worthwhile".

At 10,000 sq m, the project is expected to cost WEL $1.5 million to $2m and generate up at least 750 kilowatts of electricity.

Depending on the response of landowners, Allfrey says it hopes to build the farm this year. "The challenge will be the resource consent process."

Ultimately power experts believe everyone will be generating their own power, and power companies will simply be collecting and distributing it – a concept called distributed energy.

"We're moving to quite a decentralised model whereas traditionally it's only been the very big generators hooked into Transpower and it flows by that, but what we're seeing more is energy being generated within networks not on the Transpower network."

"It's good for the environment with CO2 emissions. This is the way of the future, as we see it as we try to decarbonise."

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