A solar PV system, the biggest at any school in New Zealand, was officially unveiled at Kaitaia College last week.
Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis unveiled a plaque at a function also attended by guests including Dwayne Crocker, from the Sustainable Electricity Association.
The project, a partnership between the college and SuperPower Technologies, was billed as offering significant financial benefits for the school and serving as a springboard for students and the community towards building understanding and solving local energy problems.
The system is 101kWp, comprising some 367 panels, which will produce around 60 per cent of the school's electricity requirements during the school day in summer. The system was purchased on finance, to be paid off over 10 years, but the school was expecting a nett saving on its power bill from day one.
After 10 years it will own the system outright.
Meanwhile the college is negotiating a deal with its power company that will enable it to export excess energy to local households outside school hours, over weekends and holidays, when its own requirements are low.
Principal Jack Saxon said he was also keen to use the installation as a springboard for the students to understand and explore energy conservation and sustainability, which was to be incorporated into the curriculum.
"The kura is working with SolarPower Technologies and other community groups, including Muriwhenua iwi, to develop an integrated curriculum around renewable energy, and is planning to integrate energy monitoring within the junior curriculum, focusing on energy conservation," he said.
"Our ākonga (students) lead community projects around developing solutions to local challenges, and one of the most exciting elements, currently being scoped with a local power provider, is the potential for the school to send excess power back to the grid and have their whānau access this."
Mr Davis said the installation of the solar network was an amazing achievement that saw Kaitaia College breaking new ground, "which is not unusual," and not for the first time wondered why every school, marae and house in Te Hiku did not have solar panels.
Apart from its practical benefits, he hoped the innovation would encourage students to think about what they could set their minds to achieve.
His own three children had received the educational foundation they needed to do well at Kaitaia College, and he urged the students before him not to fritter away their time there.
"The staff are working hard to ensure that you can go on to do wonderful things," he said.
Mr Saxon described the completion of the system as the end of a journey and the first step on to a bridge leading to a potential alternative reality.
"Power prices in Te Hiku are an incredible challenge to the whole community," he said.
Mr Crocker said he as "ecstatic" to see the installation completed. Solar power was win-win for schools, and what had been achieved at Kaitaia College was "absolutely amazing."
"You should be incredibly proud of that," he said.