Lodestone Energy's Kaitāia solar farm

PHOTO: Aerial view of Lodestone Energy’s Kaitāia solar farm, currently the biggest solar generator in the country. Photo: Supplied / Lodestone Energy

The largest solar power station in New Zealand has commenced electricity production in the Far North. Lodestone Energy’s solar farm, located just outside Kaitāia, boasts a connection capacity of 23MW, surpassing any other completed solar projects in Aotearoa. The second-largest, a 5.2MW solar farm in Gisborne, recently began operations this month.

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Daniel Cunningham, Lodestone’s general manager of development, reported that commissioning started last week, with the first of six power inverters now contributing to the national grid. The remaining inverters will be gradually connected, with the process set to conclude by late January. Despite a challenging construction year, Cunningham noted that the project is on budget and only a few weeks behind schedule.

Situated on 80 hectares of farmland on Gill Road, northwest of Kaitāia, the 60,000-panel solar farm, costing approximately $60 million, is the first in the country large enough to be obligated to “bid” into the power market. This entails informing the electricity market operator of the anticipated power generation each half hour to align supply with demand.

Cattle graze next to New Zealand's biggest solar power station, near Kaitāia. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Cattle graze next to New Zealand’s biggest solar power station, near Kaitāia. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Unlike previous New Zealand solar farms, this one features motorized trackers for the panels, maximizing power generation by following the sun. Raised on two-meter-high poles, the panels allow farming activities underneath, with plans to introduce sheep on-site soon. The company aims to explore various agricultural production methods, such as grazing cattle, growing crops, or horticulture.

The solar farm’s formal “switching on” and naming ceremony will occur upon full operational status. The majority of the plant’s 55GWh annual power output has been contracted to the Warehouse Group and Pulse Energy.

Looking ahead, Lodestone plans to construct an even larger solar farm north of Dargaville, along with projects in Edgecumbe, Waiotahe (near Ōpōtiki), and Whitianga. While the Dargaville project is pending a final decision, construction is anticipated to commence by the end of 2024, with power flowing by late 2025.

One of six inverters is craned into position at Lodestone Energy's Kaitāia solar farm. The inverters convert the panels' low-voltage DC output into high-voltage AC power suitable for transmission. Photo: Lodestone Energy

One of six inverters is craned into position at Lodestone Energy’s Kaitāia solar farm. The inverters convert the panels’ low-voltage DC output into high-voltage AC power suitable for transmission. Photo: Supplied / Lodestone Energy

This development marks a significant stride in New Zealand’s renewable energy landscape, with the Kaitāia solar farm rivaling the peak generation capacity of other major power plants in the region. Notably, a recent solar farm proposal in the Mackenzie Basin, larger than Lodestone’s, was rejected on ecological grounds by Environment Canterbury commissioners earlier this month.