A unique community-based solar energy farm in Ōtaki has been officially opened by Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Finance Minister Grant Robertson today.
The farm, split into two areas, will power the Ōtaki wastewater treatment plant, called Rau Kūmara, and the other Ōtaki College. It is spearheaded by Energise Ōtaki.
A 108kWp system is operating by the treatment plant and a 23kWp system at the college.
The council and the college are buying electricity from the solar farm at market rates.
The proceeds from electricity sold will be put into the Energise Ōtaki Community Investment Fund supporting energy and other projects in the town.
Project leader Gael Ferguson said both sites would reduce greenhouse gases by about 23 tonnes a year and produce about $25,000 a year for the investment fund.
Three other areas in the township have been identified as having the potential to generate solar power.
"We've set ourselves a goal of generating $100,000 a year from renewable energy production for the community investment fund by 2023.
"The fund will be used for community-driven energy-related projects in Ōtaki and for wider community benefit."
Shaw said the project was the "first of its type in the country".
"It's a real delight to see this, which was a twinkle in someone's eye seven or eight years ago, come to reality.
"I look [forward] to seeing more of this in the coming months and years."
He also congratulated the council for getting behind the initiative.
"Imagine what would happen if all 70-odd councils up and down Aotearoa were buying electricity from community organisations.
"It's a real sign of what's possible."
Renewable energy was important.
"We know that if we are going to decarbonise the economy entirely over the next 30 years we're going to need a great deal more electricity than we currently generate.
"What Transpower estimates is that we'll need about 70 per cent more electricity. "If you think about all the generation capacity that we've built in the past 100 to 150 years we're going to need two thirds of that capacity again in the next 30 years.
"And all of it has to be renewable, none of it can come from fossil fuels."
Ōtaki College principal Andy Fraser said Energise Ōtaki, in its early days, was described as a "loose coalition of interested individuals and organisations coming together, including the college, with the notion of taking Ōtaki off the grid".
"Many people laughed at the notion [as] ridiculous and unachievable.
"But with the Ōtaki can-do attitude Energise Ōtaki now boasts many achievements in the community and in partnership with this college."
A $407,000 grant from the Wellington Community Trust helped Energise Ōtaki set up the solar farm.